As with people, the first few months of a dog’s life is a critical development period that shapes the way they view and interact with their environment for the rest of their lives. No pressure! We say this not to frighten you, but to emphasize the importance of puppy socialization for their development and future wellbeing. A puppy relies on their owner for all their physical and emotional needs, and responsible pet ownership includes setting them up for success by beginning their socialization at an early age. Caring for a puppy is a lot of work, and our team at Desert Vet wants to help with four tips for successful puppy socialization.
#1: Educate yourself on the importance of puppy socialization
Who doesn’t want to parade their new puppy and bask in the “Oohs” and “Ahhs” from all the admirers? But, socialization is more than showing off your new puppy. Puppy socialization—exposing your puppy to a variety of different people, animals, sights, sounds, and experiences—requires a strategic approach to build beneficial characteristics, including:
- More confidence, so they are less likely to be fearful or shy as an adult
- Easily trained
- Getting along well with other animals and people
- Unlikely development of behavior problems
- Better able to cope with change
- More easily handled while receiving veterinary care
- Appropriate behavior in pet-friendly establishments
If you plan to adopt, or have recently adopted a puppy, ask your veterinarian for socialization tips and resources at your puppy’s first wellness appointment.
#2: Start socializing your puppy early
For puppies, between 3 and 14 weeks of age is the critical developmental period when they are most open to novel experiences. Begin by socializing your puppy at home with your family, and then explore new environments outside the home as soon as they have received their first vaccination series. Visit only clean environments, and allow them to interact only with vaccinated puppies and adult dogs until they are fully vaccinated.
#3: Provide essential puppy experiences
To socialize your puppy and help them grow into a confident adult dog, they should be exposed to a variety of people, animals, environments, and situations.
- People — Introduce your puppy to young children, tall people, and short people; people of different races, genders, and sizes; people wearing different clothing and accessories; and people with different hairstyles and facial hair.
- Animals — Introduce your puppy to other dogs and cats, and expose them to wildlife, such as birds and squirrels.
- Sounds — Expose your puppy to many different sounds, including traffic, television, crowds, vacuum cleaners, and thunderstorms.
- Environments — Visit different neighborhoods and pet-friendly establishments with your puppy.
- Touch —Get your puppy used to being handled all over their body to make future grooming and veterinary visits easier. Gently rub your puppy’s ears, mouth, belly, and feet. When they calmly accept your touching, reward them with praise and treats.
- Classes — Sign up for a puppy socialization class, which is a great way to introduce your puppy to other pets and people while they learn basic obedience. You should always attend your puppy’s class—chances are you will learn as much, or perhaps more, than your pet. At these classes, you will meet other people also raising a puppy, and you, and your puppy, may make new friends.
#4: Let your puppy set the pace
The goal is to provide your puppy with positive experiences, so do not overwhelm them by exposing them to too much too soon. Keep the socialization sessions short—around 10 to 15 minutes—and reward your puppy with high-value treats. Watch your puppy’s body language during the sessions for indications they are stressed or tired, such as:
- Tucking their tail between their legs
- Putting their ears back
- Licking their lips
- Avoiding eye contact
- Hiding behind your legs
- Urinating or defecating
- Showing the whites of their eyes
- Raising their hackles
- Attempting to run away
To your puppy, the world is new and exciting, but without proper socialization, that excitement can turn into fear. Investing the time and energy into socializing your puppy sets a solid foundation and helps your puppy grow into a calm, confident, and well-adjusted adult dog.
If you have questions about puppy socialization or it’s time to schedule their puppy vaccinations, contact our team at Desert Vet and schedule an appointment.