Turn Your Pup into a Social Butterfly with These Puppy Socialization Tips
By Abby Quillen
You want your new ball of fluff to grow up into a happy, well-adjusted dog. You can give her a great start by knowing when and how to introduce her to new sights, sounds, experiences, people, and other dogs. Ready to turn your puppy into a social butterfly? Keep reading for our best puppy socialization tips.
Start as early as possible
Studies suggest there’s a key puppy socialization period from about three to 14 weeks old. If puppies receive a lot of positive human contact during these early months, they’re more likely to respond to situations with curiosity instead of fear. They also adjust better to being on a leash.
Extra socialization between zero and six weeks may be even more beneficial for dogs. In one study, a trainer spent five to 15 minutes a day playing with young puppies away from their littermates starting the first week after they were born. The puppies who received the extra play and cuddle time scored better when it came to separation-related behavior, distraction, body sensitivity, and general anxiety when they were 8 months old than puppies who underwent a regular socialization regimen.
You’ll probably bring your new pup home when he’s around 8 weeks old. Since you may not have much information about how the breeder or foster parent socialized him, it’s important to start socializing your puppy as soon as you get home.
Introduce new experiences
Trainers use a socialization schedule to introduce puppies to different stimuli at different stages of development. But you don’t need a formal schedule. Just plan to spend an hour or so every day introducing your pup to new stimuli. Here’s how.
- Include all your family members in socializing your new puppy.
- Pet your puppy with your hands as well as with different textures, such as a brush, a towel, and rubber gloves.
- Introduce your pup to new sounds, such as the radio, television, music, a ringing phone, sirens, and household noise.
- Encourage your pup to walk on all types of floors and outdoor surfaces.
- Expose your pup to new smells such as grass, flowers, herbs, spices, and fruits.
- Check your puppy’s mouth, gums, ears, and paws, and hold him in various ways.
- Enrich your puppy’s environment with toys, obstacles, and games.
- Take your puppy in the car, to the park, to friends’ houses, and to as many other places as possible.
- Walk your puppy around your neighborhood, and introduce her to people and children.
- Introduce your puppy to the people who deliver your mail and newspapers.
- Introduce your puppy to people who are wearing sunglasses, hats, helmets, boots, hoods, and jackets and using canes, walking sticks, walkers, and wheelchairs.
- Introduce your puppy to other animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, and chickens.
Keep it positive
Learning about new experiences should be fun and relaxing for your pup. If your puppy gets scared or traumatized, the process may backfire and create more fear and anxiety. Pro tip: Stock up on bite-sized healthy treats. Whenever your pup has a successful interaction with a new person or experience, offer tons of praise and a treat. Steer clear of punishment, such as leash jerks, shock from an electronic collar, or yelling.
Puppies are adept at reading human emotions, so check your own feelings while you’re out and about with your pup. If you’re afraid of a large dog, chances are your puppy will mirror your feelings. Stay calm and confident, and chances are your pup will too!
If you have small children in your household, your puppy will get lots of extra socialization experiences. She’ll be around playful activity and will get to see the full range of human emotions. Whenever possible, avoid panic, yelling, and screaming around your pup. Frequent extreme emotions make dogs tense and anxious.
Find dog friends
Puppy socialization classes are a great way to introduce your puppy to off-leash dog play in a controlled environment. Sometimes socialization classes are combined with group training sessions to help you teach your puppy skills, such as how to sit, come, and walk calmly on a leash.
If you don’t have access to puppy socialization classes, consider hosting a playdate! Include grown-up dogs who teach puppies how to play and socialize with other dogs. Check meetup.com to find out if there are existing dog playgroups in your neighborhood. You can also post a flyer at your veterinarian’s office, pet shop, or dog grooming parlor.
Follow your pup’s cues
If your dog is smiling, wagging his tail, play bowing, or playing with other dogs with bouncy, exaggerated gestures, he’s probably having a great time. If your puppy whines or whimpers, flattens his ears, hides behind you, tucks his tail, or tries to look small, he may be scared or anxious. Step away from the new experience. If your puppy eagerly follows you, it may be time to move on for now.
Your early outings with your puppy should be successful as often as possible to set up positive associations in his mind. But if your puppy gets upset, stay calm and confident. This sends the message that you trust him to be resilient!
Gradually expose your puppy to new people and experiences in a calm confident way, and she’ll be a happy, well-adjusted companion for years to come.