How to Socialize Your Puppy for a Happy and Confident Dog

New puppies are awesome - and a little overwhelming. From the responsibility of making sure s/he stays healthy to training him/her to do the right things, it's a lot to remember, and it can be easy to forget that proper socialization is a key part of raising a happy, well-behaved dog. An added bonus? Good socialization makes training your puppy easier!

Puppies that have been socialized well are happy, friendly, and playful. However, puppies who haven't been well-socialized may become fearful and exhibit aggressiveness as a form of self-defense when presented with new or scary experiences. In fact, behavior problems are one of the biggest reasons dogs are relinquished to shelters. Sadly, many of these dogs had the capacity to become happy and confident, if only they'd experienced careful socialization in their early weeks.


What Is Socialization?

Like it sounds, socialization is the process of introducing your pup to daily life, which can include loud noises (at home as well as out and about), public places, people (of all ages, ethnicities, and more), other animals, and much more.

According to the American Kennel Club, “From 7 weeks to 4 months of age, your puppy goes through a socialization period that permanently shapes his future personality and how he will react to things in his environment as an adult. Gently exposing him to a wide variety of people, places, and situations now makes a huge, permanent difference.”

The infographic to the right has a number of great suggestions - if you'd like to download a larger version of it, click here!


How You Can Set Up Socialization Opportunities for Your Puppy

Because this socialization process starts so young, good breeders will ensure socialization opportunities for new litters. They may do this by inviting trusted friends and family members over to interact with the puppies when they’re small. However, if you’re adopting a pup from a shelter, you obviously have no control over their early days and weeks. Luckily, you can see from their behavior if they’re friendly or skittish. Remember, though, just because a pup is skittish, doesn't mean he won't develop confidence given time and training. Experienced shelter staff can make educated recommendations for you if you're looking to adopt. (Older pups and dogs can be socialized, so don't be discouraged!)

Blue Cross for Pets says, “Meeting adults and children should be the most important item on your socialisation programme as it’s especially important that pet dogs enjoy their company. The more people your puppy meets and plays with, the more friendly and sociable your puppy will become. Take your puppy to your friend’s houses and invite friends to your house!”

You can also enroll your puppy in puppy training classes and take extra care to make sure your puppy meets a variety of people. For example, if you don’t have children, try to arrange for your puppy to meet dog-friendly children. You also want your dog to meet (and play with) other friendly dogs. If you're in the New Orleans area, the LA-SPCA has puppy classes!


Puppy Socialization - Best Friends!

How to Recognize Potential Trouble

When you take your puppy into the world, you want to make sure s/he has the most positive experiences. However, you can’t control everything, including your pup’s reaction to what may seem like a friendly situation. Just as we may not always be in the mood for a social outing, your dog may not either. The key to keeping your puppy happy is to recognize the signs that your dog is uncomfortable. They'll tell you with their body language.

“If your puppy clings to you, if she’s yawning or turning her head away, she’s stressed. Forcing the puppy will just make it worse,” says trainer and author Teoti Anderson of Lexington, South Carolina. “Puppy emotions can be so fleeting. If more puppy owners paid attention to that, and just let the puppy go at his own pace, they’d avoid a lot of problems.” (Source: The Whole Dog Journal)

It's better to take your pup out for short socializing opportunities in the early days. Short excursions are far easier to enjoy than a lengthy outing filled with new (and potentially overwhelming) experiences. Also remember that socialization should be positive. While it's alright to challenge your puppy, those challenges should be "winnable" - that is, by the end of the experience, your puppy should be happy. 


My Puppy Hasn't Had All His Puppy Shots - Can I Socialize Him?

In years past, veterinarians warned people to avoid puppy socialization until their dog had all their puppy vaccines -- usually around 16 weeks.

While that makes sense, we now know that behavioral problems are the biggest reason dogs end up in shelters. We also know those early weeks are critical for socialization. Therefore, it’s important to strike a balance. You want your puppy to grow into a happy, healthy, confident dog, and that requires both socialization AND disease prevention.

In 2008, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) published a paper recommending that, under certain conditions, if your pup has received the first vaccinations in the puppy series at least seven days prior to the start of their puppy socialization classes, and they’ve also been given their first deworming dose, it’s alright to go to the class. Facilities that offer puppy kindergarten will give you further guidelines, as well as your veterinarian. For instance, the LA-SPCA requires that puppies must have received their first two rounds of the DHPP vaccine before attending Puppy Preschool (usually done by about 12 weeks of age). 

The key here is that you need to ensure your new puppy's physical health and safety while teaching him/her about the world. That means no dog parks or other public places (where dogs that may not be vaccinated might be found) until all puppy vaccines have been completed. 


Of course, good dog socialization continues well past these early weeks and is a life-long endeavor. As you spend more time working together, your bond will deepen and you'll recognize when your dog is stressed and when he's happy. If you have questions about socializing your new puppy, contact your veterinarian for recommendations, and if you need to schedule a visit for your puppy, call us or fill out our online form!


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