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Puppy Socialization: Everything You Need To Know

The first 12 weeks of a dog's life is a pivotal time. They are growing physically, and their mind is developing, making them curious about their surroundings. However, a puppy's experiences during this time create an imprint and shape its future. Therefore, as dog guardians, we should ensure we socialize them well. Every puppy needs socialization to grow into a well-behaved, well-rounded canine. Through puppy socialization, we teach our four-legged friends that the world is a safe place. Your vet may mention the importance of socializing a puppy, but they likely will not explain how to do it in depth. Fear not, as this guide will detail why this puppy stage is essential and break down how to socialize a puppy successfully.

What is Puppy Socialization?

As you know, dogs are social animals that love human attention and affection. However, dogs need social interaction from a young age to get familiar with people and other animals so that they can learn we are friends, not foes. The puppy socialization period begins around 3 weeks old. It ends at approximately 12 weeks, which is considerably longer than the socialization period of a kitten, which runs from 2 to 7 weeks of age. Some puppies are naturally more social than others; however, daily social interaction is essential for all baby dogs. Socialization is one of the most critical stages in a puppy's development. This is when dogs learn how to interact with humans and other dogs and animals. In addition, this socialization period is when they should be experiencing different environmental settings and becoming familiar with everyday sights and sounds, such as traffic. To give a puppy the best socialization, you should seek to introduce them to different types of people of different ages and races. In addition, your young pup should meet other dogs and various animals like cats to get on well with other pets throughout their life.

Why is Socializing a Puppy Important?

Suppose a puppy is not properly socialized during this vital timeframe. In that case, the pooch will not know how to act in social situations, such as meeting a new person or dog. As a result, they are much more likely to display fearfulness, anxiety, or aggression.  For an unsocialized dog, new people, places, and experiences will be incredibly stressful. Therefore, even activities that should be enjoyable, like going for a walk or riding in a car, can be scary. While it is possible to socialize an older puppy or adult dog, it is much more difficult as they already have deeply ingrained associations with things. In fact, it's on par with an adult human trying to break ingrained habits or thought patterns that they have had since childhood!

When To Start Puppy Socialization

Most breeders and shelters do not adopt out or sell puppies until they are at least 8 weeks old. So as the socialization period begins at 3 weeks, the breeder or shelter will have already started the process.  Aside from the fact that puppy mills are unethical in terms of the health and welfare of the animals bred there, dogs in these facilities do not receive efficient socialization. So, if buying from a breeder, choose one that raises the puppies in their own home and ensure they dedicate ample time and attention to socializing them. If the breeder starts socialization at 3 weeks, your new puppy should not be excessively fearful when you bring it home. However, even if they seem super confident and settle quickly, make sure you socialize them straight away.  You should aim that by 12 weeks old, your pup is familiar with different people and animals. In addition, they should be comfortable with any environments, objects, or noises they may encounter during their life. However, also note that puppy socialization should continue beyond 12 weeks old.

How To Socialize a Puppy

Now you know just how vital this part of puppy development is, you'll likely be wondering how to socialize a dog. Because there is so much in the world that you need to familiarize your furry friend with, we recommend following this puppy socialization checklist. 
  • Expose your puppy to different noises - Start with everyday household noises like the TV, kettle, vacuum cleaner, and hairdryer. Then start introducing them to outdoor sounds like children playing, cars and motorbikes, etc.
  • Introduce your puppy to everyone you know - You're probably keen to show off your new pup to your friends and family, so don't hold back; the more people they meet, the better. In particular, introduce them to different generations of yours. If you don't have children, take your pup round to a friend's house that does. 
  • Take your puppy out for lunch - Nowadays, many cafes and restaurants have pet-friendly seating, so start to take your new pup out for brunch or lunch dates. In a public setting like this, they will meet a wider variety of people and most likely interact with some of them.
  • Take them for walks in different locations - Don't just stick to the local park; show your dog other terrains like forests, beaches, rivers, and lakes.
  • Walk them along a busy road - Traffic is one of the things that dogs fear the most. So even if you don't fancy walking along a busy street, it's essential to dog socialization. Use a retractable leash to keep them close and safe at all times. Moreover, start with a very short distance and gradually increase the duration. 
  • Socialize them with different vehicles - Aside from seeing and hearing vehicles go past, you should get them used to being inside a car and other vehicles. You can first familiarize them with a car by letting them go inside it and closing the door. Then start to drive short distances, gradually increasing the duration. In addition, take them on a train or bus, if permitted.
  • Take them to the vets - There are various reasons to take a new puppy to the vet, one of which is to help them build a positive association with it. As puppies should receive their first two vaccinations by 12 weeks of age, it's easy to get in a couple of vet visits during the socialization period.
  • Reward them with treats and praise - The most essential part of puppy socialization is rewarding your pup every time you introduce them to something new. This helps them build a positive association with new things, and thus, they will become more receptive to the unfamiliar.

Final Thoughts

Socialization is one of the most important things to do when you get a new puppy. Of course, you don't have to spend hours each day taking them to new places. Still, you should commit to some form of socialization daily, whether it's a unique sound, person, or terrain. By following the above tips on how to socialize a puppy, you can plan ahead to ensure your new four-legged friend gets the very best start in life.
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