There are many things to do with your new puppy when welcoming them into your family, including one of the most important ones — socializing. Introducing your puppy to many different people, places and experiences can help them develop into confident adult dogs.
Start Socializing Early
The best time to start socializing your puppy is between 3 weeks and 4 months of age. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) tells us that during the first three months of life, a puppy’s sociability outweighs their fear. This is important for socialization as it allows puppies to encounter new experiences without excessive fear. Inadequate socialization during these first few months could increase the risk of behavioral problems (e.g., fear, avoidance behaviors and aggression) later in life, according to the AVSAB. It’s also important to continue to provide new social experiences for your puppy as they age to keep them comfortable and confident.
If your puppy is older than 4 months when you adopt them, it’s still important to socialize them. However, if they are showing fear behaviors, the AVSAB recommends asking your veterinarian for advice on socialization methods.
A Variety of People, Pets and Places
Socializing a puppy helps them learn how to be comfortable in a world that consists of many different people, animals, smells, sounds and sights. It’s helpful to introduce your puppy to as many new experiences as possible during the first few months of life to help them become confident in their surroundings and not grow up to be a fearful or shy adult dog.
There are a number of activities you can do to help your puppy learn about their world. Below are a few suggestions — more ideas are listed in our downloadable puppy socialization checklist.
- When going on walks, try to go a different way each time
- Introduce your puppy to a variety of people, including kids
- Show your puppy people wearing different accessories such as hats, winter coats and sunglasses, or carrying an umbrella
- Let your puppy explore the house to discover different floor textures, the dark basement or the loud laundry room
- Take your puppy with you in the car, which may include learning to be comfortable in a travel crate or carrier
Introduce these new experiences at your puppy’s pace. Stop and try again another time if your puppy is showing signs of excessive fear or avoidance.
Skip the Dog Park — For Now
While it may seem like a perfect opportunity to socialize your puppy, it’s recommended that young puppies avoid going to the dog park. A young pup’s immune system isn’t fully developed and they may not have received all of their vaccinations yet, so they are at greater risk of contracting a disease. Other places that can’t be cleaned and have a large number of dogs with unknown health and vaccination status should be avoided as well, if possible. Additionally, young pups may have a hard time being around bigger adult dogs at the dog park. Ask your veterinarian when it’s OK for your puppy to start visiting the dog park.
Plan Puppy Playdates
Instead of the dog park, socialize young puppies with dogs who you know are vaccinated and will be friendly toward your puppy. Invite a small group of well-behaved dogs and their owners to a puppy playdate in a controlled environment like a fenced backyard. There are also supervised puppy play groups that your puppy could join. Be sure to ask your veterinarian if puppy playdates or play groups are appropriate for your puppy.
When your puppy meets a new dog, make sure the introduction is slow and watch for signs that either dog is uncomfortable with the situation. It’s also useful to know the signs of play fighting versus real fighting in case the circumstance arises.
Don’t Forget the Felines
Don’t forget about introducing your puppy to cats. Even if you don’t own a cat, it’s likely that your puppy will come across one at some point in their life. It’s good to start encouraging a dog’s tolerance for cats at a young age.
Alone Time Is Important Too
Inevitably there will come a time when your puppy needs to be left alone for a while. So, getting them comfortable with being alone and learning how to entertain themselves is just as important as not being fearful when they meet new friends. Shoshi Parks, PhD, a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT-ka) and certified separation anxiety trainer (CSAT), has some great tips for getting your puppy comfortable with being alone.
Shoshi recommends placing your puppy in their confined, safe place with a treat or toy and leaving the house for five minutes. It’s normal to hear some vocalizing (e.g., barking and whining) from your puppy during this time. When you hear a break in the vocalizing, quickly come back. Once your puppy becomes used to five minutes, try slowly increasing the time. Remember to wait for a break in the barking before entering the room so they don’t associate barking with a way to get you to come back.
It’s important that every new experience your puppy has is a positive one that will encourage them to be comfortable in new situations and not fearful. Positive experiences can be nurtured with lots of praise and play rewards. Make sure you also stay calm and relaxed because puppies can sense when you’re stressed.
Puppy Socializing Checklist
Keeping track of what your puppy has experienced so far and the places they have been can be hard. So, we have developed a handy downloadable puppy socializing checklist. Simply check off the experiences that your puppy has encountered and watch their progress as they work towards becoming a confident, comfortable adult dog.
Puppy Socialization Checklist
This socialization checklist* can help keep track of the experiences your puppy has encountered so far and what new things they have yet to discover.