Socialization is the act of gently and positively exposing a dog or puppy to new experiences, such as new people, places, sights, sounds, or other animals.
Puppies have a “socialization window,” a period of time during which they’re especially open to new experiences. This is a critical time during which the dog’s lifelong response to new things is formed. Negative or insufficient experiences during this time can result in an adult dog with fear or aggression issues, while positive experiences will result in a more stable, well-balanced dog. Your puppy’s socialization window closes between 3-4 months, so make sure to get him in a well-run puppy class ASAP.
In general, we recommend that puppies have positive experiences, such as getting fed treats, with 200 new people before they reach 16 weeks of age. That number should reach 400 new people by the time the puppy is 6 months old, and a 1-year-old dog should have had positive experiences with at least 600 new people.
When socializing your puppy to other dogs, skip the dog park. It’s a good place for a puppy to get sick (not every dog who visits has been vaccinated), and not all of the dogs who attend are friendly or good with puppies. One negative experience can cause profound issues later on. Instead, get together with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers who have healthy, friendly dogs for your puppy to play with. Training classes can also be good places to continue socializing your puppy to other dogs.
The best way to socialize your puppy is to take him out and about to lots of places. Aim for three field trips a week, and make sure to bring along lots of especially tasty treats. If at any time your puppy appears anxious or fearful, stop, and remove him from that situation. Remember that socialization is defined as good experiences with new things. If your puppy isn’t having a blast, you need to change things.
Puppy socialization is a priority, as it can shape who your dog becomes as an adult. If you don’t have the time or energy to socialize a puppy, consider adopting a well-socialized adult dog instead. Remember, your dog is likely to be with you for the next 12-15 years. Some extra effort on your part during this critical developmental period can set the tone of your relationship for the rest of your new pup’s life.
Have you ever purchased or adopted a puppy? If so, what did you do to socialize her to new experiences? Do you wish you had done more socialization to anything, and if so, what? Share your puppy questions and stories in the comments below!