How to Socialize Your Puppy. What and Why?

What is socialization and why is it important for your puppy?
The short of it is that we are building our dog's confidence. Have you ever seen a dog that is really skittish? How about the one that barks at everything? A new person? Bark. A car driving by? Bark. A fire hydrant? Bark bark bark. 

Socializing your puppy is basically teaching your pup to be a part of society and that new things in this world is OK. These things include new people, places, noises, smells, sights and other animals. A well socialized dog is also generally calmer, more comfortable and relaxed in a variety of situations. An improperly socialized dog can lead to behavior issues with fear and aggression in the future. Or they can just be a bigger pain in the ass.

Did you know that therapy dogs are really calm because they are well socialized by being exposed to a ton of different things as a puppy? It’s not really a secret, but socializing can do wonders in creating a calm dog. Pippa can probably hear a gunshot go off and not even flinch. Actually… maybe that’s not a good thing… 

How do you socialize a puppy?
It’s actually a pretty easy task to socialize your puppy. All you need to do is create a comfortable and relaxed mood for your pup around new things. Other times, you just let them explore at their own comfort. For example, I’ve noticed Pippa used to be nervous around new people. She would run between my legs and stay there. Pippa is an Australian Shepherd so they tend to be a bit standoff-ish with new people so this is natural to her. But we can change that with socialization.

To socialize Pippa around new people, we took her to a park in the city where there were lots of people. We got closer and closer to the busy area of the park and encouraged her with lots of high value treats and played with her favorite toy along the way. What we are doing is exposing her to lots of new people, a new environment and then making her feel comfortable by making it feel like she's won a million bucks. We also asked a couple of friends (who Pippa has not met before) to come by and meet Pippa. As soon as Pippa started sniffing them, I would click with my clicker and Pippa is given a treat by myself or my friends and this teaches Pippa that new people means good things happen. 

Think about this through Pippa’s eyes. Every time I see someone new, I get a treat and people are affectionately petting me. New people aren’t so bad after-all. 

I used the same strategy to socialize Pippa around other things that I’ve observed her being nervous about. Trains, cars, bicycles, tall people, kids, runners, the washing machine, thumping noises (thanks neighbor) and more. 

What you shouldn’t do.
It’s important to ease into socialization. Keep an eye on your dog’s comfort level and if she seems stressed, just slowly back away from whatever is causing that stress. I don’t recommend picking up your dog and reassuring her that it’s going to be ok. What you’re doing here is reenforcing that she needs the coddling and to be protected when in fact, there is nothing to fear.
Your puppy also will look to you for social cues. If you’re nervous around new people, your pup might pick up on this and feel the need to either mimic you or protect you. This can lead to a dog who is skittish or one that becomes aggressive around new people. So lead by example!

When you should socialize your pup. 
Start now! The window for socialization is between 6 to 16 weeks according to most articles. After 16 weeks, your dog will naturally not accept new things as easily. Even if your dog doesn’t have all the vaccines yet, the risk of not socializing your pup properly is higher than the chances of catching a sickness. Your puppy doesn’t need to live in a bubble, get out there and socialize that dog - you'll be happy you did. Trust me.

Check back soon for an exposure checklist for proper socialization. And speaking of checklists, check out the best pre-puppy checklist ever.

Thanks for reading!