Proper Socialization

The how's and why's of proper socialization

Socialization describes the process by which a dog learns to relate to people, other dogs and his environment. Your dog will continue learning throughout his whole life. However, during his puppy stage is when any experience—good or bad—has the greatest, longest lasting impact. What your puppy experiences in his first few months will effect his behavior for the rest of his life.

When considering purchasing or adopting a puppy, be certain that you have the time to invest in socializing your puppy during his first few weeks with you. Socialization forms the foundation for your dog's behavior later in life. It's also a great way to get know your puppy very well.

Begin socialization as soon as you bring your puppy home. Adhering to your puppy's vaccination program can be seen as an obstacle to socialization, but with some considerations this can be done without compromising his vaccinations. Much of the early socialization can be done in your home. Besides, the risk of your puppy contracting an infectious disease is easily minimized by just carrying him when he is outside your home.

To properly socialize your puppy, here are some things you should commit to doing:
  • Identify situations and environments in which your puppy will need to be comfortable. These often include:


    • Interacting with your children and their friends
    • Riding in the car
    • Meeting the mailman, other deliverymen, repairmen or landscapers
    • Walking along the street or through the neighborhood
    • Tolerating large trucks and cars
    • Larger animals, like cows or horses
    • Resident pets already in the household
    • Vacuum cleaners, hair dyers, washing machines and other loud appliances.

    Basically, you are trying to prepare your puppy for all eventualities, so that when he encounters anyone or anything new, he will greet it with inquisitiveness rather than fear or aggression.

  • Expose your puppy to all sights and sounds gradually and allow him to explore and learn for himself. For example, turn on the vacuum cleaner in another room to avoid startling him by a sudden loud noise, and let him go to find it. Make every effort to ensure that when he finds it, it is rewarding rather than threatening. You can do this by placing a piece of food next to the vacuum cleaner. If your puppy is quite shy and frightened, you can start off by having a snack next to the switched off vacuum cleaner, and then work your way toward your puppy tolerating it when it is switched on.
  • Introduce your puppy to a variety of different people. Let him meet people of all descriptions, bearded, thin, overweight, tall, wearing hats or glasses, carrying bags, pushing bicycles, etc. When taking your puppy for a walk, take some tasty snacks with you and ask people to give one to your puppy. Soon, your puppy will learn that all people are friendly. You can incorporate some basic training into this by teaching him to sit before people give him a snack. This will prevent him from jumping up at strangers.
  • Teach your puppy to interact with other dogs correctly. Puppies, like all young animals, love to play, and games play a vital part of a dog's development. Dogs develop their canine communication skills through playing with other dogs as puppies. Bite inhibition is one behavior taught through play. When puppies play physical games, they soon learn that a littermate or adult dog will not tolerate sharp teeth pulling on ears or necks. If a puppy bites another dog too hard, he will get a quick reprimand, and the other dog stops the game for a brief moment. A puppy soon learns to inhibit the strength of his bites and will cease to bite too hard when playing with other dogs. One way of getting good socialization with other dogs and puppies is by attending “puppy parties” at your local veterinary clinic or your local dog training group. Here, your puppy can meet other dogs and people in a friendly and structured environment.
  • You and your family should continue to teach bite inhibition at home. Whenever your puppy uses his teeth on your skin, you should respond with a sharp yelp of pain (even if it does not hurt). This teaches your puppy that touching human skin with his teeth is not allowed, no matter how gentle he is. Stop the game you and your puppy were playing momentarily, and your puppy will quickly learn that in order to continue having fun he must not bite you.

Complete socialization is an unattainable goal. It is impossible to expose your puppy to everything that he is likely to meet in his future years. However, if you can teach him that new experiences are pleasant, he will grow up learning that unknown things and situations are something to explore, rather than to be fearful of. And don't be surprised if your previously confident puppy starts to show apprehension towards objects that he used to be fine with as he enters his juvenile period (at approximately 14 months of age, dependant on the breed). This is normal in many dogs at this age. If it occurs, you should carry on with your socialization program by re-exposing the adolescent dog to new experiences on a regular basis.

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