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Socialization Training for Puppies

What is it, Why is it important, How is it done?

Puppy socialization

Puppy socialization is the process where you teach a young dog about being social. A puppy learns the most important habits of their personality, over the first few months of life. During these first few months, you need to teach your puppy how to relate to those around them.

During that period, anything they get used to, anything that seems normal to them, is going to be easier to deal with for the rest of their life. So, things such as obedience training, how to deal with other animals and strangers, being outside and seeing the world – things like that – should be introduced early, within the first few months of their life.

The goal of puppy socialization is to normalize their reactions to the world, so they can deal with the world in a natural, non-stressful way. This prevents many behavioral problems, because the dog is used to living in the world and will not be shocked or upset into acting out.

Puppy socialization

Puppy socialization also creates a stronger relationship between you and your dog. It establishes you as the pack leader, as you’re providing important experiences. In my article about choosing the best dog breed, I talked about the fact that certain breeds of dog are very easy to socialize, and some are not quite as easy. Still, it doesn’t really matter what breed your puppy is. Every puppy needs basic socialization training in order to have a good, healthy social life.

Your puppy will learn socialization skills both due to your active attempts at training, and passively on his own time. When you put him outside, for example, and allow him to explore and see the world, that is socialization – it shows him a level of independence, which establishes part of his sense of what’s normal in his role as submissive to you.

Be careful during passive socialization steps. Keep an eye on your puppy in order to prevent him, for example, from drinking mud, risking disease, or getting into fights.

Why is Puppy Socialization So Important?

First, let’s emphasize “puppy.” Make sure that you’re doing these steps during the formative months of very early life. Whether you do puppy socialization, don’t do it, or do it wrong, any of these things are going to become habit forming and will be a foundation for your dog’s personality for the rest of his life. If you skip it or don’t do it correctly, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle with personality and behavioral problems for the rest of your dog’s life.

Correct socialization, just like correct obedience training, will prevent many behavioral problems from ever coming up. Chewing problems, dog food aggression, separation anxiety – all this can be prevented with puppy socialization.

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What does Socialization Do for Your Puppy?

Proper socialization will bring your puppy’s personality closer to the “baseline” that you desire and will help overcome any traits or instincts that come with the breed. So, for example, if you have a dog that was bred for shepherding, your socialization techniques will help reduce the feeling this dog was born with that they need to “herd” people.

Using proper socialization techniques will stimulate your dog’s mind and protect their well-being. Your dog will be more intelligent because they feel comfortable in new situations, and many unexpected cases of aggression can be prevented by properly socializing your puppy at an early age.

What are the Risks of Skipping Puppy Socialization?

Skipping puppy socialization, allowing him to form his habits and personality without help, can lead to serious behavioral problems.

If you neglect proper socialization training early in life, you’ve missed an opportunity that will never come again. Once they grow past these first several months of their life without proper socialization, many parts of it won’t be easy later. Without learning important social skills at an early age, their problem behavior can lead to being an outcast. Obviously, this will mean a continually-degrading life for your dog.

If you don’t properly socialize your puppy, then he can develop severe mental health problems. There are dogs so under-socialized that they are afraid of their own shadows. Without puppy socialization, you might constantly be dealing with a dog in a high state of anxiety that is worried about everything.

Puppy Socialization Begins at Birth

Puppy socialization

Your puppy’s mother will take several steps, out of instinct, to begin the puppy socialization process, as will his litter mates. Through these first family bonds, they will learn some obedience skills by being disciplined for wrong behavior. They’ll also learn from basic social feedback, for example, how to avoid playing rough, and the basics of a leader-submission mentality.

Unless you are the breeder, you will probably bring your puppy home when it’s about two months old. Prior to this, the breeder will need to take various steps in order to get your dog used to the different kinds of stimulus and patterns that go on in a human household. After that period of about two months, most puppies wind up in their permanent home. It’s extremely important that you immediately continue the socialization process that was begun by the dog’s mother, siblings and breeder.

This extremely simple-minded creature, your puppy, needs to know that the socialization process continues in the new environment. In other words, start the instant they come home with you.

So What Is Puppy Socialization? How Do I Do It?

Here are the most important things to keep in mind during the very first hour, and throughout the following weeks, in order to create the right socialization environment and prevent problems that will negatively affect social training.

  • It’s important to protect a very young puppy from any incidents of fear. Anything that scares your puppy during the first months of life will be embedded in the forming brain as being experiences to always fear. Protect your puppy from harm, and also protect them from the fear of harm. Otherwise, your puppy can grow into a skittish dog, with great difficulty learning how to appropriately process everyday life.
  • Beginning with the first day the puppy comes home with you, begin some training steps such as I’ve talked about on this website. For example, crate training, giving them toys, letting them know where they should not go to the bathroom, and all of the very first types of training that establish you as the pack leader. Constantly remind them in a loving way that there are right and wrong behaviors, and that they need to learn to control their instincts.
  • Handle your puppy frequently – almost constantly – during the first weeks. Make sure that other people feel encouraged to handle the puppy in a gentle, loving way. You want the puppy fully accustomed to human contact.
  • Within just a few days, begin working with the easiest verbal commands, such as how to “stop,” how to “get down,” and how to “go potty.” There’s an excellent training package called “Secrets to Dog Training” that will walk you through all of the first steps and will help you achieve quick success in training your puppy on the first tenets of obedience.
  • Puppy socialization
  • As your puppy becomes comfortable and seems to obviously be getting used to life around the house, make sure the puppy is gradually exposed to all the things that are normal in your home. In particular, things that would otherwise be frightening should be introduced in a safe, gradual way. There is a fine line between the earlier stages where you are protecting your dog from any possibility of fear, to the gradual progression into removing those layers of protection so that the puppy doesn’t permanently believe that everything really is scary. Vacuum cleaners and televisions, for example, as well as your children, should start to become a regular part of your dog’s life as soon as they are becoming comfortable with the home and their place in the pack.
  • At this point, I’m still talking about the things you’ll do during the first two or three weeks of your puppy’s time at your home. Once the various routines and experiences of your puppy’s new home become normal and non-threatening to your puppy, begin aggressively socializing your puppy with people who live outside of the home. Also include any trustworthy pets that have been vaccinated, so that, at this stage, about the third or fourth week they live in your home, the puppy starts to realize that it’s not just the people inside their home they should socialize with, but also strangers. Make sure the people who visit you and your puppy know that they can pet and play with your puppy, and provide treats, and do all the things that foster a basic level of trust between the puppy and humans.
  • Get your puppy used to basic grooming habits such as bathing, clipping nails, brushing teeth, brushing hair, etc.
  • Permit and encourage your puppy to explore their environment. Always keep in mind, it’s better to begin with positive reinforcement, always rewarding good and even normal behavior, rather than focusing on preventing bad behavior. It’s during this stage that your dog is first sticking his nose into the plants, sniffing around the electrical sockets, or getting to know what your favorite chair or your bed is about. Remember that scolding and negative reinforcement must not become the norm. Whatever is frequent during this stage of your dog’s early life are going to become the expectation. So, if scolding and correction become normal, then it’s going to become a type of social interaction that your dog craves.
  • At this point, I’m still talking about things you want to deal with within the first three months of the puppy’s time at your home. Start showing your puppy experiences that will be outside of their normal realm, including experiences away from the house. For example, take them out for car rides; to the vet; for walks; to friends houses. Be very careful, because this early in their puppy’s life, they won’t have their vaccinations yet. So, you need to be protective – just not overly so. You don’t want to instill co-dependency in your dog so that you are forced to deal with separation anxiety later. However, you do want to show your puppy a wide variety of experiences, and instill feelings that both normal, and abnormal parts of life are not to be feared.
  • Start introducing your puppy to toys and playing games such as hide and seek, peek-a-boo, and similar things you would do with a human baby to stimulate their mind and let them have fun.
  • Puppy socialization
  • After your puppy has had their final vaccinations, it’s a good idea to take your dog to a day care for dogs at least a few times. This will help them work their socialization skills with other dogs in a safe, specialized environment with professionals. It’s important to do this in a controlled environment such as a professional center for dog day care because the professionals running that center will make sure that all the dogs are vaccinated, and they’ll know how to deal with any problems that can arise between dogs that are socializing at a young age.

On the one hand, all of this adds up to a recipe for preventing problems in the future. On the other hand, they’re also all positive things that will give your puppy the proper basis for good mental health and prepare them for dealing with life in an appropriate way. They’ll learn that life is non-threatening, and through this, they’ll be happier.

All this should be done in a happy, positive environment. So long as you focus on making things seem normal to your puppy, avoiding any threat of instilling fear and suspicion of new environments, and creating a good relationship between you and your puppy that’s free from threat and the mistakes of negative reinforcement, you’ll be laying an excellent groundwork for your dog’s healthy life.

Return to general dog training help, or go back to training a puppy.

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