Socialization is how a puppy learns about herself, other dogs, and other species she will interact with. It’s how your pup will figure out how to communicate with other animals, and understand what’s acceptable and what’s not. Poorly socialized dogs can be fearful, timid, or aggressive later on, so socialization is an important part of overall behavioral health.
The critical socialization period is around 6 to 14 weeks of age. But keep in mind that puppies have not yet received their full series of vaccinations at this point, so they’re susceptible to infectious diseases. So avoid unvaccinated dogs, strays, and high-traffic public dog areas until your pup has been fully vaccinated.
But it is a good time to start exposing and introducing your pup to other vaccinated dogs, dog-friendly cats, and lots of different people. Make sure the people are friendly and gentle. Toys, treats, and other high-value rewards (like lots of verbal praise!) will help your puppy associate new friends as a positive experience.
Habituation is how a puppy becomes accustomed to different environments. Get your puppy used to a wide variety of sights, sounds, noises, smells, and tastes at a very early age, and she’ll be less fearful and jumpy when she encounters them as an adult.
You want to make sure your puppy accepts being touched and handled by a lot of different people. It will make her less aggressive with strangers, and your vet will have an easier time running her through routine checks and exams—and you’ll find it easier to give her medication when necessary, especially in the ears and on the paws.
Habituation starts the moment you bring your pup home. Rub her belly, gently put your fingers around her mouth, lightly pinch her toes and between her paw buds, brush her coat and handle her ears. The more people who do this (always gently, and with a great deal of care!), the better—so invite your family members and friends over for puppy-petting, early and often! (We don’t think they’ll mind.)
And remember, anytime you take your pup to a new place, or introduce her to a new person or experience—the groomer, dog park, and of course the veterinary clinic—give her a new toy or a favorite treat. That way, new experiences will be associated with positive feelings.
- Here’s our Socialization and Habituation checklist. Try to run your pup through the gamut as early on as you can!
- Being touched and petted by strangers
- Meeting young children (under your close supervision!)
- Meeting a dog-friendly cat
- Meeting vaccinated adult dogs
- Experiencing visitors arriving and leaving your home
- Visiting other people’s homes
- Traveling in a car
- Hearing the phone ring, loud music, and TV noises
- Hearing laughter and clapping
- Seeing and hearing trucks, bikes, scooters, and buses
- Hearing the washing machine, dryer, and vacuum
- Hearing thunder, fireworks, and sirens
- Getting her paws wet, taking baths, and becoming accustomed to water
A great environment for your puppy to work on socialization is at a puppy school or a puppy-training class. In these classes, vaccinated puppies can learn essential communication skills, become accustomed to new sights and sounds, and begin basic obedience training.
It’s important to lay the groundwork for positive behavior as early on as possible.
Keeping your puppy mentally and physically stimulated is important, because boredom and frustration can lead to behavioral problems. Here are some guidelines:
- A minimum of 15 minutes of exercise or play, twice a day. Working dogs and other high-energy breeds may require much longer daily rounds of activity.
- Walking, jogging, Frisbee, or playing fetch with a ball will provide physical stimulation.
- Obedience training and special toys that require your pup to work for a treat will provide mental stimulation.
- Make sure you are the one to initiate play and exercise sessions, not your puppy. This will prevent her from becoming over-demanding and hyperactive.
If you can offer consistent physical and mental stimulation for your puppy, your dog will be calmer and more secure in her relationship with you—not to mention all around happier and healthier.
Positive reinforcement training is a major pillar of creating positive behaviors in your pup, leading to general obedience and good interactions with dogs, other animals, and people.
See our articles on “Positive Reinforcement” and “Housetraining and Crate Training” for more information on training your new pup.
Behavioral problems, especially aggression, are the main factor behind animals being surrendered or euthanized. So be sure to pay attention to the four cornerstones of canine behavior to give your new puppy a solid basis for a happy, healthy life as an obedient adult dog. Start early, be patient, use lots of rewards, and introduce your pup to plenty of new adventures. And if you have any questions or need additional advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Small Door Vet team!