Bringing a new puppy home is just like bringing in any new addition to the family. At first, they’re squirmy and helpless. Then, before you know it, they become toddlers throwing tantrums and getting into everything (like scribbling on walls and sticking fingers into light sockets if they are two-legged, or chewing on wires and playing in the trash if they are four-legged)!
There’s nothing quite like a new puppy, however, to bring life, laughter and joy into your home. But just like kids need to be taught how to behave properly, your new fur kid is going to need some behavior lessons, and that all starts with puppy socialization.
Since March 23 was National Puppy Day, we thought it was the perfect time to focus on how to make sure your puppy grows up to be a good canine citizen.
What Is Puppy Socialization?
Puppy socialization is a blanket term for training your puppy to integrate with people and other animals – both inside your home and out. While you will give her formal training later on, socialization starts immediately after getting a new puppy when you introduce your new little fur ball to other pets, kids and the routines of your home.
However, basic puppy socialization really starts before you bring them home, when your puppy learns to interact with his or her siblings and caregivers, as well as experiencing new sights, sounds and smells. But it’s important that you continue this process after your little guy or gal arrives in your home. Puppies are most accepting of new experiences while they are younger, and if you miss this window of opportunity, you’ll have a much tougher time.
Puppy Socializing at Home
In most cases, puppy socialization begins at home, when your new arrival is not yet fully vaccinated and therefore can’t venture too freely out into the world. The best age for puppy socialization is between 6-12 weeks, but certainly before 6 months of age is best. This is something of a catch-22 situation because this is the tender age where they are susceptible to many infectious diseases, but is also a critical time to be exposed to lots of new things. Creating a balance between safety and socialization is key.
Start by introducing your puppy to other pets in your home, and let him become accustomed to kids, noises from your television or stereo, and all the new experiences in your backyard. Many people also choose to host “puppy parties” where several new arrivals and their humans get together and spend time getting used to the noises, smells and experiences the little guys will face in their new lives. This offers a great opportunity for your puppy to meet other friendly dogs, but make a point to invite friends and family with happy, healthy dogs of all ages and sizes, instead of only puppies. However, if you are interested in going to or hosting a puppy party, do check with your veterinarian to see what vaccinations need to be in place to keep your little guy or gal protected.
Puppies should also go out with owners to as many places as possible, to be exposed to traveling in the car and being around all sorts of people and environments. Just be sure to avoid areas where lots of other dogs go, such as pet stores, dog parks, and flea markets until they are fully vaccinated.
It’s important to make sure that these new experiences are fun and that your puppy is not overwhelmed or frightened. Stay close by at first, and be ready with a cuddle or a treat when things get a bit much. By offering positive reinforcement in scary situations, you’ll make it much easier for your little fur ball to accept new sights, smells and sounds, so he’s much less likely to react with fear or aggression.
Puppy Socialization Classes
Once your puppy is used to your home, yard and family, he’ll probably also have had his vaccinations and will be ready to graduate to puppy socialization classes.
These classes are a more formal type of socialization training, where your puppy and several others will be exposed to a range of noises, situations and experiences in a safe environment. These classes teach your pup that just because something is new, it’s not necessarily bad.
In addition to exposure to new situations, many puppy socialization classes also teach basic obedience, so you’ll get a head start on training in a fun, age-appropriate setting.
What If You Don’t Socialize?
Puppies are receptive to socializing for a relatively short time. In fact, by the time they’re about six months old, it’s a lot harder to get them used to new experiences (as that old saying about teaching old dogs new tricks hinted). Countless studies have proved, and experts agree, that poorly socialized puppies are far more likely to be aggressive towards humans or animals, or to suffer from debilitating fear.
If you want a well-rounded, well-adjusted dog, the single most important thing you can do early on is to make sure your puppy is socialized properly.
If you are in the Apex, North Carolina area, then there are several great options for early puppy socialization, including:
, who plan to enhance your relationship with your lifelong canine companion so you can enjoy a well-mannered dog who fits into your lifestyle every day.
- Carolina Dog Training takes an in-home approach to training, with personalized programs for all their clients, including puppies.
In addition to these and other local dog training schools, you can also find puppy socialization classes through several pet store chains, or even in online classifieds. If in doubt, contact your vet or ask for references. Even a little unstructured play can be beneficial as long as it’s safe for you and your puppy. Remember, more socialization at an earlier age is always the goal.