When you first get your puppy, everyone from your vet to your grandma is going to tell you, “you need to socialize that puppy while they are little!”
This common advice is accurate, though incomplete. Socializing a puppy doesn’t mean the same thing for every dog owner. It definitely does not mean that you have to encourage your puppy to interact with everyone you see.
Consider how you would like your puppy to behave when they are fully grown. Do you want a dog that is able to focus on you in any environment, unafraid of children, loud noises and tall strangers in hats? Or do you actually want a dog that is truly friendly and runs up to every other human and dog that they see?
If it’s your priority to have a dog that is well-behaved everywhere they go, you’ll want the former. If you plan on doing therapy dog volunteer work, you’ll want the latter.
How To Socialize Your Puppy
Minimally, you should expose your puppy to many different environments with varied sounds, scents, other animals and other people and work on basic cues wherever you go.
If you’d like, you can encourage your puppy to greet people and dogs, but it’s more important for you to be your puppy’s advocate and allow them to make choices. If a child is being rough with them, for example, you should supervise, intervene, and make sure your puppy has enough space to move away when they feel overwhelmed.
This is especially true when introducing your puppy to other dogs. While you may feel less in control of off-leash introductions, having your puppy greet other dogs face-to-face while on-leash can make both dogs feel trapped, which can lead to a fight. If you decide to allow your puppy to greet dogs on-leash, keep interactions very brief, praise your puppy, and then move along.
You may want to teach your puppy to focus on you and wait for permission before running up to people or other dogs. Some dogs may be in training, and some people have allergies – no matter how cute your puppy is, not everyone is going to want to interact with them. Always ask before approaching, just to be safe.
Socializing Your Puppy Before They Have All Their Shots
Puppies go through critical fear periods during which potentially scary situations can have a powerful impact on the rest of their life.
During critical fear periods, your puppy may react unpredictably to different stimuli. One day, they might happily play with your neighbor’s toddler, and the next, they might be terrified of them.
An unpleasant interaction – for example, the child pulling on your puppy’s ears – can lead to a lifelong fear of children. That’s why it’s so important to carefully manage interactions in your dog’s puppyhood to make sure they’re as fun and pleasant as possible.
There are two critical fear periods – the first occurs around 7-12 weeks of age, and the second occurs around 6 to 14 months. The first will occur before your puppy has had all of their core vaccinations, so you may want to begin carefully socializing them around that time.
Your puppy’s core vaccines will typically include parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis and rabies. Distemper and parvovirus are especially common in young puppies that are not completely vaccinated. Your puppy can pick up diseases through contact with saliva, blood, urine and feces. Distemper can be spread through a cough or a sneeze from an infected dog.
Avoid public areas like parks, pet stores, hiking trails and sidewalks until your puppy is fully vaccinated. Even if there are no other dogs present, your puppy may play with a stick that an infected dog has chewed, or putter around infected urine or feces and later lick their paws.
It’s typically safe to let your puppy play on your own property if it is not frequented by strange dogs or wild animals. Parvovirus can survive for up to a year on many surfaces, so take extra care if you have had a dog with the virus in the past. You can also have play-dates with friendly, temperamentally stable dogs that have had all of their vaccines.
Take extra care if you volunteer at a shelter or work around dogs. It is possible for you to harbor pathogens on your shoes or clothing. While you can safely socialize your puppy around people, you may want to have them at least take off their shoes before entering your home.
Is The Dog Park A Good Place To Socialize My Puppy?
Many trainers, behaviourists and veterinarians would advise that you stay away from dog parks entirely. Dogs have died from being attacked at dog parks. Dogs can also pick up diseases – some strains that may not be included in your dog’s vaccines – from playing with toys or coming in contact with urine or feces.
That said, if you really want to take your dog to the dog park, you can lessen the risk that your puppy will get hurt or sick. Aim to go when few other people are there. Don’t let your puppy play with toys that other dogs have used. Get to know the other owners and make sure they are watchful and responsible. Keep an eye on your puppy at all times and intervene if either dog shows any signs of fearfulness or aggression.
Socializing With Doggy Daycare & Boarding
One of the best ways for your dog to make friends is at daycare or overnight boarding. Dogs are only grouped together if they are friendly and sociable, and should be supervised by someone who is well-versed in body language so they can intervene before any problems arise.
Board-and-train programs with Healthy Houndz in North York and Toronto are an excellent way to give your puppy a leg-up on potty training and basic manners while they spend time with other dogs. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you raise your puppy to be happy, confident and well-mannered.