Early socialization is the MOST important thing you can do for your puppy, but unfortunately most new owners misunderstand what socialization actually means.
I can not stress enough how important early socialization for your new puppy is. Without proper early socializing you are setting your puppy for potential behavioral issues such as reactivity, anxiety, hyperactivity, excessive barking, aggression, poor manners, etc etc.
Socialization is creating purposeful, positive experiences for your puppy to prepare them for life in the human world. Socialization is not the same thing as exposure. It is not enough to just expose your puppy to lots of things. You must ensure they are having a positive experience.
Nothing is more important than early socializing. You can give them the highest quality food, the best toys, delicious treats and lots of love, but more important than all of those things is proper early socializing. This is the foundation to having a well rounded, confident, obedient, perfect companion.
A lot of dog owners are not aware that puppies have a critical socialization window. This critical window closes anywhere between 14 and 18 weeks of age. The first 4 months of your puppies life is probably the most important time in their life. Normally an 8 week old puppies curiosity is high and their fear is low. With each day that passes their curiosity lowers and their fear rises. Do not underestimate the need for life experiences and positive early socialization during this time. And do not isolate your dog. If you wait until your dog is fully vaccinated before starting socialization you will miss this window of opportunity. Here is a socializing checklist
According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, For this reason, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.
Because the first three months are the period when sociability outweighs fear, this is the primary window of opportunity for puppies to adapt to new people animals, and experiences. Incomplete or improper socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioral problems later in life including fear, avoidance, and/or aggression. Behavioral problems are the greatest threat to the owner-dog bond. In fact, behavioral problems are the number one cause of relinquishment to shelters. Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age.
So how do you safely socialize your puppy before they are fully vaccinated?
- Introduce your puppy to 100 different people of all ages, gender, ethnics, sizes, appearance by the time they are 3 months old. This does not have to be direct interaction. You are socializing even at a distance. You can sit in your driveway or porch and still be socializing your pup to people that walk by.
- Enroll in puppy kindergarten classes or start a free puppy socializing class. Just make sure it is more than just a free for all puppy social.
- Properly socialize your pup with adolescent and adult dogs. Your family and friends dogs are not enough. They need to have experiences at home and away from home with friendly and social dogs. Avoid overbearing dogs. Avoid dog parks! There is no pathogen control on the ground, no mandatory vaccination for the older dogs and no way to screen the temperament of the dogs. Dog to dog interaction is necessary, however you do not want them to be overstimulated. Too much can make your puppy obsessed with other dogs and become dog dogs instead of your dog. Keep them engaged with you and break up sessions to small doses.
- acclimate your pup to all types of noises. Vacuum, household appliances, music, crying babies, trash truck, car horns, birds, construction work, vehicles etc
- introduce your pup to as many different surfaces as possible. For example: real grass, artificial turf, dirt, rocks, carpet, tile, wood flooring, concrete, wet surfaces, plastic etc.
- Handle your puppy with you and with others. Get them used to having their paws touched, ears touched, teeth checked, grooming
The key is this: Take baby steps, don’t rush them and make new things seem awesome. Play with your puppy, give lots and lots of positive reenforcement by treats and praise during these new experiences. You should always have food with you for part of the reward. Pay attention to your puppy. If certain things make them nervous, focus on those things. If they are afraid of stairs, do not avoid them, continue to encourage them to take that first step and when they do so make sure to reward them. Remember you are teaching them that these experiences are positive. Challenge them but do not overwhelm them. Socialization does not end at 4 months old. If you stop exposing them to things they could de-socialize.
Having this solid foundation often prevents many behavioral issues or at least makes them easier to tackle. So start socializing NOW!