What is socialization?

Socialization has been on my mind lately because I have taken on quite a few puppy clients! It’s that time of year–people have added these puppies into their families over the holiday season, and now I get the wonderful task of assisting them with proper training from the start. Kudos to these new pet parents!

Puppy Gretel is getting some playtime with head Delightful Doggy, Jasper, as part of her socialization
Puppy Gretel is getting some playtime with head Delightful Doggy, Jasper, as part of her socialization

Socialization is the process of exposing a puppy or dog to new people, dogs and other animals, environments, sights, sounds, smells, etc., in a safe, gentle way so they can be comfortable around such stimulus without being fearful. Socialization should NOT be stressful or overwhelming; it should be done in short, positive sessions, and without force. The optimum time for socialization is before 13 weeks of age.

While there is always a concern about health as puppies are undergoing all their needed vaccinations, the importance of socialization cannot be missed. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) has even released a position paper stressing the importance of socialization within the first three months. This doesn’t mean you should take your new puppy to an off-leash dog park where all the neighborhood dogs go; rather, it means you should take them to structured puppy classes, and in public places where you have more control of who and what comes into contact with him.

Proper supervision and going at the puppy’s pace is key. Strangers should ask to interact, if possible, and you shouldn’t feel bad about saying no to anyone or anything with which you aren’t comfortable, either! You are the advocate for your dog and both of you should feel calm when introducing your puppy to new experiences. Move gradually and even use treats or other rewards like toys and affection to pair the new experience with something he likes, to make it a positive experience. If at any time he becomes agitated or appears stressed, take a break.

Practice handling your puppy as he would be handled in situations at the vet, groomer, etc. Practice with safe adults and other adult dogs who are properly vaccinated and healthy. While you may not want to keep your dog crated for periods throughout his lifetime, it is still important to acclimate him to confinement, and it’s important for house breaking and keeping him safe, so I highly recommend everyone do crate training from the start as well!

Dr. Sophia Yin has a wonderful new puppy book, and has offered a free puppy socialization checklist download you can access here. There is also a poster about how to read signs of fear in dogs that is very helpful in assisting you understand your dog’s signals. Dogs communicate greatly through body language. There are more great dog training posters on a variety of topics that you can access at the illustrator’s website, doggiedrawings.net. Lili Chin is a very talented lady so please consider making a donation through her website as well.

Need help with socializing your puppy? We can provide quality referrals to group classes and offer a Delightful Doggy Finishing School program ($25 off through 1/31!) that can help you provide a solid foundation for you and your pup. Give me a call today at 303-550-5652 or email laura@delightfuldoggies.com.

Thank you and happy training!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

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