What is puppy socialization?
Socialization is the process in which your puppy learns to behave in an acceptable manner. These mannerisms are acquired through two primary avenues:
- through their mom and littermates
- through continued learning into adulthood with your family.
As they age, puppies enter and exit many developmental stages, including the “socialization period,” where during 3-13 weeks of age they begin to interact with others and their surroundings. Typically, at eight weeks of age, they are rehomed, and it is during this time that puppies can enter what is called the “fear period.” As your puppy encounters new things in their environment, some of these new things can be scary. It is important to introduce your puppy slowly, avoid unruly dogs or people, and reward them for positive behaviours they perform in a variety of experiences.
When can you start to socialize your puppy?
Aside from your pup engaging with mom and siblings, eight weeks is an ideal time for them to start exploring and interacting with new people and their environment. Pet parents can enroll their puppies into obedience and puppy classes where they can engage with other puppies of various breeds and sizes. Play is crucial as many body postures, and social interactions are learned. Many important functions include coordination, stimulation of communal behaviours, problem-solving, social rules, behaviour predictability and bite inhibition, which is all acquired through play.
Where is it appropriate to socialize your puppy?
It is important for your puppy to engage with the world around them through close monitoring and at a slow pace. All sessions with other puppies and adult dogs should be supervised in the event where intervention may be required. Play amongst puppies and dogs should be balanced; each one switching between dominance and submission. Their body postures are fluid and relaxed with each of them making play gestures. Breaks during play should be frequent as well. If play develops to a point where there is mounting, scruff grabbing, pinning and body slamming, your puppy should be promptly removed from that situation. These sessions could take place in the home, during puppy socials or obedience classes. You may want to avoid dog parks at this stage as it could be overwhelming and scary for your puppy.
Who should you socialize your puppy with?
Puppies should be socialized with many different people, adults and children and different animals like cats or farm animals (depending on their environment). However, we do not want to do too much too fast. A great place to start is with family members and work up to strangers and other animals. It’s important to be patient with your puppy and reward him/her for positive behaviours. It will encourage your puppy, and they will become more confident when encountering new people and animals. Expose your puppy to people with hats, beards and sunglasses as these items can cause a little uncertainty when your puppy encounters them. Sometimes having a stranger present your puppy with a treat eases their hesitation and creates a positive interaction.
Why is puppy socialization important?
Socialization is an integral and critical aspect of your puppy’s learning and development. Without proper socialization, puppies can grow into fearful, confused and aggressive adults who push boundaries and react with unpredictability towards others. Therefore, proper socialization ensures your puppy will become a comfortable, confident, happy and well-adjusted adult. Ask your veterinary professional today for more information!
Written by: Meghan Toope, RVT