Socialization - It's not what you think!
Socialization is introducing your puppy to as many other puppies as possible right?
Not quite... Socialization is really about your puppy experiencing as many new things as possible in a safe and positive way. In their first 16 weeks of life (Socialization Period), we want puppies to experience as many people, animals, places, surfaces and objects as we can. During this timeframe, puppies are able to form social attachments most easily. It is critical to get your puppy out and about so that they are able to learn that new places and people are safe. Once this window is closed, it will require significantly more work to help your dog feel safe and confident around these things.
Feeling overwhelmed yet? Me too. Puppies are an awful lot of work.
Here are some ways to help make sure you socialize your puppy to the best of your ability in the time that you have.
Take one small trip a day. This could be to sit in a parking lot and watch people pass by, go into a dog friendly store, or to the end of the driveway to get the mail from the mailman. These trips do not have to be long or far away. In fact, the shorter the better. Leave before your puppy is tired and cranky.
Utilize a socialization checklist to help you focus on things that you haven't done. Checking off an item also helps provide motivation for you!
Create items from what you have at home to check something off on a day you have less time. Turn a pan upside down for a fun slippery obstacle. Place bubble wrap on the floor to practice walking on a new surface that makes noise. Make a blanket fort to gain confidence walking under an item. Socialization does not need to be hard or draining.
Take a puppy class! This class will allow playtime between puppies, allow your puppy to see and meet multiple new people, and will introduce them to at least 1 new location. These puppy classes will also help you feel less overwhelmed by helping to keep you on track.
Find an accountability buddy in your puppy class that will help initiate outings for your puppies. Doing things with another person makes the outing fun and enjoyable for you too.
Now, let's talk about how to make sure your puppy has good experiences and is not scared during socialization.
Allow your puppy to walk up to people on its own. Instruct the people to allow the puppy to offer the first contact, and then they can pet. If your puppy moves away, allow that. Only let them lift the puppy if the puppy is not concerned by the person.
A great way for your puppy to learn that they don’t NEED to greet every person they see is to do some socialization outings from your trunk. Allow your puppy to watch people pass by and see them from a distance. Indifference is not a bad thing.
Meeting other dogs:
Make sure that the other dog is friendly and likes puppies before allowing them to interact. If your puppy jumps on the dog or is obnoxious it is okay for the dog to correct them. This looks like a growl or showing of teeth. If your puppy does not back away on its own, gently guide them away.
Allow your puppy to play with other puppies that are of a similar age. Make sure to keep a close eye on the play so that it does not get out of hand. Stop the play before the puppies get tired/cranky/upset.
Make sure to have interactions with friendly dogs in which they never meet. You will want the ability to not have your dog greet others in the future.
Seeing other animals
In most cases, we do not want our dogs to greet horses, livestock, wildlife, cats and other animals in the same way they do people and dogs. Our goal for these species is indifference. We achieve this by exposing puppies to animals and rewarding them for checking in with us. Soon, they will ignore the other animals.
Help your puppy understand that loud, startling noises are nothing to be worried about by exposing them to a variety of noises of different volumes. Drop a handful of yummy treats when they hear a new noise. Play noises such as: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDmvQVB8mZY during their nap time to help them become habituated to the sounds. Start the volume very low, and slowly increase it. The goal is that the puppy doesn’t even notice the noises.
Take your puppy to new places to make sure that they are confident in all sorts of environments. Using a wagon or backpack for your puppy will keep them safe from any sort of illness they could pick up on the floor, and will make sure they don’t get too tired out. If your puppy isn’t nervous, just walk through the store or location and then leave. No need to make it a big event if they aren’t scared. If they are nervous, offer them some treats and let them take time to adjust. There is no need to rush but make sure you don’t stress them by staying too long.
Bring out a variety of surfaces for your puppy to walk on such as a metal pan, laminate flooring, bubble wrap and some sort of very short wobbly object. Allow them to explore as they feel comfortable, and reward for any interaction with the objects. Soon they will be climbing all over with no fears.
Let your puppy explore any new objects you can find or bring them to. Statues, buses, playground equipment are just a few. The more your puppy explores the more confident they will be. Our goal is for your puppy to turn into the most confident dog!
Socialization can feel like an overwhelming process, especially if you are raising a service dog. The added end goal of service work brings an extra layer of worry to not “mess this up”. As long as you follow this guide, you will be better set up for success. If you are feeling like you need some direction and assistance, reach out to us. We are here to help!
Download our socialization checklist to help you raise your puppy right!