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Getting a new puppy is a huge responsibility. You have to feed them constantly, take them to the bathroom around the clock, train them, and make sure they’re properly socialized. Proper socialization is imperative for a little pup who’s brand new to this world. But how do you socialize a puppy, you ask? We’ll get into it below.
To learn more about why you should socialize your puppy, how to socialize your puppy, and other frequently asked questions, continue reading. Or, you can use the links below to jump to a section of your choice:
- Why Do I Need to Socialize My Puppy?
- When Should I Socialize My Puppy?
- How to Socialize Your Puppy: Exposing Your Puppy to New Things
- Best Practices for Socializing Your Puppy
- Puppy Socialization: Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Notes
Why Do I Need to Socialize My Puppy?
So, why exactly do you need to socialize your puppy, you ask? There are many reasons why socialization is so important for a young pup.
The main goal of puppy socialization is to get your pup used to various sounds, smells, sights in the real world. You want them to react to these things in a positive manner, rather than with fear or hesitance. A puppy is brand new to this world, they’re going to need some help getting used to things!
Socializing your puppy while they’re young can help them get prepared for life as they get older. Dogs will have to encounter many unknowns in life: riding in a car, meeting new people, going to new places, and many more. Socializing your puppy while they’re young gets them prepared for these situations and prevents them from being afraid of new encounters.
If you don’t socialize your puppy, it will likely lead to behavioral problems as they get older, such as dog anxiety or aggression.1 Your dog may not like going outside in public, interacting with other people/animals, or just socializing in general. Once your veterinarian declares it’s safe, you should start taking your pup outside so they can begin proper socialization.
When Should I Socialize My Puppy?
You should aim to socialize your puppy when they are 3 to 12 weeks of age.2 However, some dogs may have a socialization period of 16 weeks. The socialization you do during this period of time will influence their behaviors for the rest of their lives, so it’s important to start early. Since your puppy is so young, you’ll want to proceed with caution while socializing them. Introduce them gently to new places and people, and don’t overwhelm them with too many experiences at once. After this timeframe, continue to create positive experiences for your pup.
Dogs are curious creatures by nature and will likely want to start exploring new places and people at a young age. If you get your pup from a breeder, it’s likely that the socialization process has already started and you’ll need to pick up where they left off. Make it a priority to ask the breeder what steps they took to socialize your puppy. Some breeders don’t socialize their puppies at all, resulting in a more fearful pup.
How to Socialize Your Puppy: Exposing Your Puppy to New Things
So, now comes the important part: learning how to socialize your puppy. In order to properly socialize your dog, you need to start by exposing them to new things in a controlled environment to ensure the experience is positive. This means pairing exposure training with food, playtime, toys, and affection. Otherwise, you risk making the puppy more afraid of new surroundings, people, and so on.
There are various things you’ll want to expose your puppy to, which we’ll get into below. Before getting started, learn how to read your dog’s body language to make sure your puppy is comfortable through this process.
Expose your puppy to:
Think about all the sounds you hear on a daily basis: cars driving by and honking, people talking, the dishwasher running, and the dreaded vacuum cleaner. These may all be sounds that you’re familiar with, but to your pup, they can be terrifying. This is why it’s so crucial to acclimate your puppy to different sounds. You want them to have positive reactions to these different sounds.
Dogs often react negatively to new sounds, so getting your puppy used to different sounds at a young age will help them be prepared for the real world. You can expose them to sounds in different ways, such as with a socialization sounds playlist. A playlist will introduce your pup to various sounds that they will hear in a gentle and comfortable way. Once they get used to hearing these sounds on a playlist, then you can bring them out into the real world to hear them for themselves.
When your dog is young, they’re only familiar with a couple of surfaces. The only surfaces they know might be just the grass outside their house and the carpet inside their house. So when you bring your puppy outside into the public for the first time and they step onto cold concrete, they might freak out.
You want to prevent this negative reaction from happening by exposing your pup to different surfaces. You’ll want to slowly introduce your puppy to different surfaces, like carpet, concrete, wood flooring, grass, and gravel, so that when they encounter them in the real world, they’re not afraid. Gently exposing your dog to these surfaces is an important part of proper socialization, but you never want to force them to go into a place they don’t want to. They should enter on their own terms.
Other dogs and animals (if you own other types of pets)
Even if you don’t have any other pets, that doesn’t mean your puppy won’t ever come into contact with other animals. Engaging with other animals is a regular part of a dog’s life! You want to introduce them to other dogs and animals at a young age. Meeting other pets can be scary for your young pup, so you want to be very careful when doing this. For this reason, ensure that the pets you introduce your dog to are also well socialized and up to date on vaccinations and parasite preventions.
Dogs tend to read and reflect their owner’s reactions, so if you’re nervous or afraid when introducing your dog to a new animal, they will likely be too. Make sure you're comfortable and relaxed and your dog will hopefully be too. And remember, take things slow. You don’t want to introduce your two month old pup to a bunch of different animals in one day. This process will take time.
It’s just as important to introduce your dog to other people as it is to introduce them to other animals. In the real world, your dog will come in contact with tons of different people, many of which will be strangers. You don’t want them to back away in fear every time someone comes up to pet them.
Start by introducing your pup to other people in your family before taking them out in public in front of a bunch of strangers. Expose your pup to new people slowly, and before you know it, they will be more than happy to let people pet them. Make sure you introduce your pup to people in different articles of clothing as well, such as hats or helmets, and individuals that may use wheelchairs or canes.
Best Practices for Socializing Your Puppy
There are a couple of different practices you should follow when it comes to socializing your puppy. You don’t want to go into this process blindly. So to help you out with your puppy socialization journey, we’ve compiled some of the best practices you should follow:
Use a reward system
Rewarding your pup for good behavior is key. You can reward your puppy with treats or playtime. This will teach them that when they do a good job, they’ll receive a reward in return and it’ll encourage them to continue with their good behavior.
Never punish your puppy
Scolding your puppy will weaken the bond between the two of you and make them more afraid.1 After all, your puppy is young and learning, they don’t deserve to be punished for their mistakes! Even if you get frustrated, try your best to resist punishing your puppy. If your puppy does something wrong, just let them try again.
Get the whole household involved
One of the best ways to get your puppy acclimated to the real world is by getting the whole household involved. You can make puppy socialization fun for the whole family! And the more people you have helping out, the quicker the process will go.
Consistency is key when it comes to puppy socialization. Expose your puppy to something new every single day and they’ll be confidently venturing out into the real world in no time.
Take it slow
You can’t expect your pup to be properly socialized overnight. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm your puppy with too many experiences all at once.1 This will just make them more afraid. You need to take things slow and give them time.
Go to puppy classes
Puppy classes are a great way to introduce your dog to new experiences in a positive way.1 Puppy classes are also a good opportunity to start training your dog at a young age. If you decide to enroll your dog in puppy classes, make sure the lessons emphasize positive reinforcement. The facility where the classes are held should also require proof of vaccination and ensure all dogs are up to date on parasite preventatives.
Introducing your dog to new people and places also means they’re going to be exposed to new germs, so you need to get them vaccinated. In one study, puppies who stayed up to date on their vaccines and went to puppy classes were at no greater risk of contracting infectious viruses than a control group of puppies who did not go to puppy classes.3
It’s also important to make sure your puppy is healthy during this entire process. There are a few steps you should take to ensure your puppy is in good health, such as:
- Feeding your dog an appropriate diet
- Taking your dog for regular vet check-ups
- Exercising your dog appropriately
- Keeping your dog at a healthy weight
- Ensuring your dog up to date on their vaccines and parasite preventatives
Puppy Socialization: Frequently Asked Questions
How soon should I socialize my puppy?
You should socialize your puppy during the first four months of their life. The experiences they have during this stage will permanently shape and influence their behavior and personality as they get older. You can start socializing with your puppy as soon as they’re properly vaccinated and your vet says it's safe to venture into the real world.
Proper socialization is imperative for a happy and healthy dog. The experiences you expose your dog to as a puppy will seriously impact the type of dog they are! You want to introduce your puppy to new experiences gently at a young age so that they can feel comfortable and confident walking the streets as they get older.
While your puppy is young, it’s also important to keep track of their health by taking them to regular veterinary appointments, which you can get on Dutch.com. Dutch is a convenient solution for pet care and allows pet owners to access the care they need from home. Dutch-affiliated vets are qualified to help with all sorts of problems, like if your dog has hair loss or if they’re suffering from dog dermatitis.Our vets are here to make sure your puppy is healthy and can help you identify things like dog food allergy symptoms and dog ear infection symptoms. So whether you need diagnosing your dog chewing paws or need help with socializing your pup, Dutch vets are available with the click of a button. Contact us today to schedule your first telemedicine for pets appointment.
- Hunthausen, Wayne L., et al. Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat. United Kingdom, Saunders, 2013.
- Overall, Karen L. Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, Elsevier Saunders, St. Louis, MO, 2014, pp. 125–125.
- Stepita, Meredith E., Melissa J. Bain, and Philip H. Kass. "Frequency of CPV infection in vaccinated puppies that attended puppy socialization classes." Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 49.2 (2013): 95-100.