Raising your dog right can be a lot of fun. The love, joy, and care you put into it is mutually beneficial. You get a loyal, well-behaved companion, and your dog gets the best shot at a good life. Much like raising a child, one very important aspect of raising a dog (whether he’s a puppy or not) is socialization. You want your dog to be comfortable around other dogs, cats, other animals, and humans of all ages. It’s a real pain to feel limited in regard to where you can take Fido because he might become aggressive or anxious. Read our tips so your pup feels comfortable and confident in every situation.
What is Socialization?
Socialization is the process of introducing your dog to new people, animals, places, environments, situations, and experiences. Exposing your dog to all these things helps him grow more accustomed to novel experiences. This increases his overall comfort and confidence and quells many of the fears and anxieties that come with simple, everyday activities. And the more comfortable and confident your pup is in everyday situations, the less you have to worry about car horns, walks in the park, meetings with other dogs, or veterinary exams bothering him.
Socialization is an important aspect of any dog’s life and ensures your dog’s emotional and behavioral health, so here are a handful of tips for a properly socialized pup.
- Start early. The prime age for introducing new experiences is between 3 and 12 weeks of age. That is when your pup is most accepting of new experiences. After 12 weeks, pups will become more cautious and hesitant of their surroundings. After about 18 weeks, the ideal “window” to socialize your pet slowly tapers off. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible to socialize an adult dog, but it will be harder and take a bit more time and work, and you may need to enlist the help of a professional. If you already have an older dog that is anxious in certain situations, it’s never too late to help him by working on socialization.
- Socialization is not all or nothing. Training your dog is sometimes a matter of all or nothing: he either learns to sit on command or he doesn’t. Socialization is more like filling a bag. The more things your dog experiences or is exposed to, the fuller the bag becomes. Even the most reclusive dog has some social elements in his bag. After all, he is accustomed to you, family members,his home, his food, his toys, etc. Of course, he probably won’t adjust as easily to new things as a dog who has met a wider variety of people and dogs. Think of socialization as a project that goes through your dog’s entire life. Try to fill that bag up as much as possible.
- Safety first.Don’t be too eager to socialize your pup that you forget safety. Make sure the other dogs your pup encounters are as nice as he is. It may be better to start with one of your (human) friends before you move on to a canine stranger. The best method is to find a puppy play group that features dogs of the same approximate age and size as your own. Avoid your local dog park until your pup is older and more accustomed to meeting large groups of dogs.
- Take your pup’s cues. Let your dog set the pace during any socialization session. Forcing your puppy to make contact when he’s nervous can be traumatic and lead to unwarranted displays of aggression. The situation should be as comfortable as possible for your pup. Don’t overwhelm him, and if he’s tired or grumpy, you’re better off calling it a day.
- Variation is the key. Meeting new people and dogs is great, but socialization is about all the variations in your pup’s world, and that includes sights, sounds, smells, and textures. Let your dog hear a baby’s cries, honking horns, and the strum of a guitar. If he’s used to hardwood floors, take him to a home with carpeted floors. All of these little touches will help your dog understand that the world is an interesting place full of a great many things.
- Don’t forget the praise. Like any bit of training, make sure you dispense plenty of praise, pets, and treats. You may not get the chance on the spot, but when you get home from that walk in the park, puppy play date, or dog park, give your dog a good treat and plenty of time to rest and relax.
Have fun. Although socialization is a normal part of dog training, it shouldn’t be a compulsive exercise. You don’t need to set a daily schedule or routine for socialization. Just do your best to fill your dog’s life with as many interesting experiences and opportunities as possible.
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