Proper socialization is one of the most important things you can do for your dog, but many people don’t have a good understanding of what it means.
If you are getting a puppy, he has spent the first few weeks of his life with his mother and siblings getting a very limited view of the world. He may have been confined to someone’s bedroom or to a few rooms in a house. He may have gotten to go outside a little. But your puppy has mostly learned from his mother, brothers and sisters the basics about being a dog.
His breeder (whether he is a purebred or a mixed breed dog, he has a breeder) may have cuddled him and petted him, getting him used to humans, but your puppy still doesn’t know very much about how to behave with people.
Teach Young Puppy to Socialize
When your puppy comes to live with you when he’s 8 to 12 weeks of age, he is essentially a blank slate. He doesn’t know he shouldn’t potty in the house; he doesn’t know he shouldn’t nibble on people. He doesn’t know the vacuum cleaner won’t eat him. These are all things you have to teach him.
Likewise, you have to teach your puppy how to interact with people. He has to learn that there is more to the world than just your house or yard. You can do this by taking your puppy with you when you go places. It’s a good idea to wait until your puppy has had his first few vaccinations so he will have some immunity to the diseases he might encounter outside your home.
What You Should Know Before Taking Your Puppy to the Dog Park
Once your puppy is about three or four months of age, start taking him places where puppies and dogs are welcome. Take him to the park, for example. He can meet other friendly people who can pet him.
Take some treats so you can offer some to the people who pet your puppy. They can give your puppy a treat when they pet him. This can help overcome any reluctance your puppy may have about going up to a strange person. It will also help your puppy learn that it’s nice to be petted by friendly people. These are good lessons in his socialization.
At the park, your puppy may also see things like children playing or other dogs running around. It’s good for your puppy to meet children, but supervise the interaction so the puppy doesn’t get too rambunctious or accidentally hurt a child. It’s fine for your puppy to meet other friendly dogs, but always ask the dog’s owner before approaching.
Some dogs don’t like puppies and most dogs don’t want a puppy to jump on them or get in their face. So, have your puppy under control when you are near another dog. A polite meet-and-greet is preferred, and then you can see if the dog would like to be friends with your puppy.
Your puppy may also see things like squirrels jumping out of bushes, ducks on a lake, or lots of other interesting sights at a park. All of these things are good for your puppy to see and learn about.
You can also take your puppy to a pet supply store that welcomes puppies. Let him sniff around and pick out his own toy.
Are Dog Parks a Good Idea for your Dog?
Dangers of Dog Parks
This is a good place to say a word about dog parks, as opposed to parks. Dog parks are not recommended for young puppies. Since they have dogs of all sizes and ages, they can often be too rough and tumble for young puppies and the puppies can be injured.
Dog parks also vary a great deal in quality. Some dog parks are great; others aren’t so good. It really depends on the people who visit the park and how well they follow the rules. So, it’s best not to take your puppy to a dog park until he is older and able to look out for himself. Even then, choose a dog park carefully and always keep a close eye on your dog.
Carrie Wooddell on How to Correctly Socialize Your Puppy at The Dog Park
Teach Your Puppy to Develop Self-Confidence
At times your puppy may encounter something that scares him on your excursions. That’s fine. That’s part of life.
If your puppy is scared of something, it’s important that you do not start coddling your puppy. If you act like there is something for your puppy to be scared about, it will only reinforce his belief that there is something “bad” that is going to get him. He will be even more frightened the next time something happens.
Instead, if your puppy is startled by something, or acts afraid of something ordinary, you should keep a positive, cheerful attitude. Your puppy will take his cue from you. If you stay happy and laugh about the “bad” thing, then your puppy will quickly get over his fear.
He will develop more confidence in himself and he won’t be afraid the next time he encounters something strange. This is how puppies learn to develop self-confidence.
In fact, this is one of the most important parts of socialization: Helping your puppy develop self-confidence. Puppies that are well-socialized and exposed to all sorts of people, places, and things are much more confident as adult dogs.
Well-socialized, confident puppies are far less likely to have behavior problems when they are adult dogs. One of the best ways to prevent behavior problems later in life is by socializing your puppy well when he’s young.
Puppy Preschool or Puppy Kindergarten
In addition to taking your puppy to places where he can meet friendly people and other dogs, you can also sign your puppy up for puppy preschool or puppy kindergarten classes.
These are classes that are designed specifically for young puppies so they can play with other puppies the same age. They can get some petting from the other puppy owners. And, in some classes, the instructor will also teach the puppies a few basic manners. These are great classes for young puppies and a wonderful way to socialize your puppy in a structured environment.
If you would like to find a puppy preschool or puppy kindergarten class, check with your local kennel club, pet store, animal shelter, or dog training center. Any of these places may offer puppy preschool classes. Many times these classes are offered as an introduction to a basic obedience class, so once the puppy preschool class is over, you can keep going every week to an obedience class for young puppies.
Summary of Puppy Socialization
Good socialization is extremely important for your puppy’s development. It will help him develop self-confidence and teach him what he needs to know about the world. Self-confident puppies are much less likely to develop behavior problems when they are adults.