The Importance of Socializing Your Dog
Socialization is extremely important. In fact, many behavior problems are preventable with proper socialization of puppies at a young age. Socialization will help your puppy grow into a confident and welladjusted adult dog. It is the fastest, easiest and most critical way to prevent behavior problems in your adult dog. Under-socialized dogs will experience fear and possibly aggression when they encounter certain people, other animals, sounds and environments that they have not been socialized to. The number one reason for animal relinquishment to shelters is behavior problems that often could have been avoided by proper socialization. These issues include fear, aggression, separation anxiety, dog reactivity and many others.
When To Start Socialization
The socialization process starts the day your puppy is born and will continue for their life. The critical socialization periods occur up to and around 5 months of age. Secondary socialization periods will occur during adolescence, which, depending on the breed, can last up to 2 years of age. This means the time to start is NOW, don’t wait! Socialization, or the lack of it, is happening now, even if you are unaware. The best way forward is to be proactive and work hard to impact this process to prevent behavior problems.
How To Socialize Your Puppy
We recommend using positive reinforcement training. Start by taking some small, delicious treats with you everywhere you take your dog and ensure positive encounters with multiple new stimuli every day. Meet lots of new people, go to many new places, play with dozens of other puppy-friendly dogs and experience everything that may be a part of your dog’s life at any point.
Dog-to-dog socialization is an essential aspect of your puppy’s life. They can hone their social skills and learn how to play more appropriately with people. A well-run positive reinforcement puppy class is the ideal place to get access to lots of other puppies. We do caution against going to dog parks with your puppy. Many dogs at the park may not tolerate puppy behaviors and can be a bit over the top for young dogs to learn appropriate play behaviors.
Socialization is not limited to other people and dogs; it includes sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile experiences. It should include all things that may be encountered in your life with your dog. For example, if you decide to go on a beach vacation in three years and your dog has never seen the sand and ocean, this will not be a fun family trip for the dog. Take them to the beach now and play a game so the dog can develop positive associations with all things beach related.
If your puppy experiences a negative reaction to anything you encounter, stop! This is the hard part but an important skill to work on. You must properly teach your dog how to get over this fear. Move them away from the fearful stimuli to a point where they can see, smell and hear it but will take treats from you and are showing relaxed body language. Play a game, feed them treats and slowly move them closer to the experience they are afraid of. Your ultimate goal is gradually getting them to experience this stimulus without a fear response. Do not force them to tolerate something that is causing fear, as this is the opposite of proper socialization. Instead, allow for gradual warming up to the object, sound, smell, person or other thing and help them to learn that it is enjoyable.
We are always here to help! You can find additional behavior and training resources at pasadenahumane.org/behavior.