Whether your new puppy is from a breeder, a breed rescue group, an animal shelter or a neighbor’s ‘oops’ litter, socialization is paramount to ensuring your dog becomes a healthy, happy and friendly four legged member of your family.  Because many dogs come to us with an unknown history, to a large extent the breed of your new dog is now irrelevant.  You have adopted your puppy or dog and the genes have played their part but now it is your turn to positively affect your puppy’s future behavior through appropriate nurturing and socialization.

Socialization is not a small task and it is the foundation on which all future training will be based.  Though socializing your new dog will require your commitment it can be fun for both you and your dog if done properly and incorporated into your daily routine. There are also many great resources available to assist you with this job.

The development period for puppies takes place between 3 and 12 weeks of age. There is a primary socialization period from age 3 to 5 weeks where behavior patterns and emotional tendencies take place and then a secondary socialization period from age 6 to 12 weeks when the mother’s job is almost complete. At this stage the puppy is, hopefully, weaned and has developed good interaction skills with its littermates.  It is never too late to socialize a puppy or an older dog but it may be more difficult for any dog not properly socialized during these critical learning periods. 

Canine socialization is more difficult than with most other animals. We expect our dogs to be social with a variety of other dogs, domestic animals and to be comfortable and relaxed around many different people. An unconfident and/or unsocial dog may develop behaviors of fear, aggression, or a host of other problems in later months.  A good puppy program can head off these potential issues.

The three most important factors to any socialization program is exposure, exposure, exposure. Puppies need to be exposed to as many different people, places, noises, smells and environments as possible in a safe and controlled manner. Exposure to a variety of environments needs to be positive for the puppy so it can learn to be confident in any situation.  Make a list of all the places you visit and expose your puppy to these situations, one by one, for short periods (a handy free guide including a checklist can be downloaded from www.dogsmith.com).

Enrolling your puppy into a puppy class is always a good idea and a highly effective method of further socializing your dog.  A good puppy class run by a professional trainer will be a safe and controlled environment for your puppy to meet many other dogs of a similar age.  Make sure any class you are considering is structured so your puppy is encouraged to play with the other dogs so they develop good play skills, tolerance, trust and affection towards other dogs and people. You will also want to enroll in a puppy class that is conducted mostly off-leash so the dogs have the greatest opportunity to interact and play. 

Another great socialization technique is to play “pass the puppy” at home with family and friends. Form a closed circle with your family members and have the puppy run to everyone in the circle.  As you reward your puppy touch your puppy all over its body, paws, mouth, ears etc. Your veterinarian will thank you for this when your puppy behaves nicely when being examined. Puppy play also helps social learning between different dogs and between dogs and people. Through play dogs learn self control and restraint and they learn bite inhibition.   A puppy that can play well is a puppy that can learn and if we want our dogs to reach their full potential they need to know that learning through exploration is fun and reinforcing.

To find a professional trainer in your area visit the DogSmith website at www.DogSmith.com or call 1-888-Dog-Smith.  Check Out The DogSmith Free Puppy Socialisation Classes

Niki Tudge is the owner and founder of The DogSmith, America’s Dog Training, Dog Walking and Pet Care Franchise. To learn more about joining the DogSmith visit https://www.DogSmith.com

Niki achieved her Canine Behaviorist Diploma in England and Dog Obedience Training Diploma in the US.  Niki is an Endorsed member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Trainers and a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and The Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. Niki is also certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. You can reach Niki via email at NikiTudge@DogSmith.com or  www.DogSmith.com