A puppy’s innate curiosity is charming, but can be temporary. Puppies go through several fear periods that may damage their confidence, and make them shy or aggressive. Take advantage of their early curiosity to create positive experiences with new things. Each positive encounter will make your puppy a happier and healthier adult. To help you start your puppy off on the right paw, WesVet Animal Hospital has compiled the following guide to successfully raising a confident puppy.
What is puppy socialization?
Puppy socialization is a series of controlled introductions to new sensory experiences, including people, animals, sights, and sounds. Properly exposing your puppy to new things teaches them to be calm and confident in their surroundings. Proper socialization is critical to develop a well-behaved dog. Well-socialized dogs are:
- Easier to train
- Less likely to react with fear or aggression
- Happier and healthier because of reduced stress-hormone levels
- More adaptable to change
- More cooperative for veterinary care and basic husbandry, which promotes better health
When is the right time to socialize my puppy?
Puppies are at the height of their boldness and curiosity, and naturally more social than fearful, between 3 and 12 weeks old. After 12 weeks of age, they may be more cautious, reluctant to investigate new things, and more likely to form negative associations. Socialization should continue during this time, but with caution, paying close attention to the puppy’s reactions.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends that your puppy does not socialize until seven days after their first vaccines and deworming (i.e., as early as 7 to 8 weeks of age). Although your puppy’s immune system is still developing, they are initially protected by passive maternal immunity, and then vaccinations. Always complete your puppy’s vaccination protocol.
When should I train my puppy?
Puppies are eager learners, and training can, and should, begin right away. Use only positive reinforcement, rewarding their correct behavior with treats, praise, and play. Harsh physical or verbal corrections can destroy a puppy’s confidence, and lead to stress, fear, excessive submission, and aggression. Foundation behaviors can be taught at home, starting with:
- Leave it
Puppy socialization classes can begin after their first vaccinations. In addition to basic manners, these classes can help your puppy learn proper play behavior with other dogs in a safe, controlled environment. Look for a positive reinforcement trainer, and first observe a class without your puppy, to ensure the right fit.
Should I take my puppy everywhere?
In short, no. While your puppy should see and experience variety, focus on creating positive experiences that allow them to stay in their comfort zone. Individualized encounters will boost your puppy’s self-esteem, and help them feel in control. Always emphasize quality time over quantity with your puppy.
Use your puppy’s natural tendencies to guide the socialization process. Confident, adventurous puppies may enjoy meeting multiple new people, or watching a noisy trash truck, but cautious puppies may prefer one-on-one introductions, or observing from a distance. Puppies with either of these personalities can grow up to be well-adjusted dogs, so never rush a reluctant puppy to interact with their environment.
Ensure your puppy’s early socialization opportunities are positive experiences by:
- Keeping sessions brief
- Introducing only one new thing at a time
- Training in low-distraction environments
- Letting your puppy meet only well-mannered adult dogs
- Starting with familiar people and children who know how to behave around puppies
What if my puppy is scared?
If your puppy is overwhelmed or frightened, calmly remove them from the situation. Contrary to popular belief, you should gently reassure your scared puppy. A few kind words will not reinforce or encourage their fear. Make your next outing a familiar experience, to build confidence. Never force your puppy to remain in a stressful situation and expect them to “get over it,” because this will only intensify their fear, and may trigger negative behaviors.
Where can I socialize my puppy?
Safe socialization opportunities are everywhere, including your home. Don’t limit socialization to meeting people—also include sensory experiences, such as:
- Textures — Let your puppy feel various textures, such as mulch, sand, mud, wood, plastic tarp, or the non-slip side of a rug, under their paws.
- Sounds — During unpreventable sounds, (e.g., a trash truck, or noisy neighbors), teach your puppy that noise equals food by giving them treats.
- Sights — Let your puppy watch from a distance, and approach new sights at their own speed. Visual stimuli can trigger chase behavior, so keep your puppy leashed.
- Movement — Use an air mattress, a playground sway-bridge, or a pool float, to help your puppy learn about moving surfaces.
- Touch — Teach your puppy grooming and veterinary skills by handling their mouth, ears, feet, tail, and belly in exchange for treats.
Most importantly, your puppy needs positive veterinary experiences, and that’s exactly what the team at WesVet Animal Hospital provides. Help your puppy learn how much we love them by scheduling a happy visit, during which your puppy will experience the hospital and our team without unpleasant vaccines or procedures—only treats and attention.
Positive socialization promotes healthy, happy pets and patients. If you have additional questions or would like trainer recommendations, contact WesVet Animal Hospital.