What is Puppy Socialization?

Dog parents have learned about the importance of taking their pups to puppy classes to ensure their puppy will not only be a delight-of-a- dog to be around, but also one that is comfortable and thriving in all sorts of circumstances. In other words: well socialized.

But what is socialization? Socialization is the process of exposing puppies – ideally from 3-18 weeks of age – to novel stimuli and anything that can potentially be perceived by the puppy as concerning. Now, how one goes about it is equally important. Our aim should be for positive experiences for the puppy with all sorts of people, friendly dogs and other stimuli.

Puppy classes are the first step, but clearly not the all-in-all in achieving adequate socialization. A well run puppy class is a great venue for guardians to get informed and supported about all there is to teach their pups – as most of this undertaking should continue to take place beyond class. Unfortunately, most folks really fall short in their socialization efforts. It is dangerously easy to underestimate how comfortable our puppies must be with whatever (our) world presents them.

So if socialization is so crucial why is it that most people only barely scratch the surface?

Two of the most salient reasons why dogs are not really socialized are because people lack appropriate information of its importance and how to go about it. A fact that I can attest in every puppy class I teach.

And secondly because let’s face it; the promise of a fabulous adult dog down the line is too long a time for people to really get motivated about today.

Puppyhood can be a very demanding time for people, but I am left to wonder why get a puppy then? When the joyous part of having a puppy at home is to spend time with him or her? I guess it is much easier for us professional trainers to take ample socialization to heart because we are the ones working day in and day out with dogs that are fearful or anxious of certain demographics of people or certain things – or worse, dogs that have generalized fear or anxiety because they lacked the proper socialization. Their lives and those of their families are many times really miserable so I really wish people would listen!

Besides exposing young puppies to a myriad of novel stimuli we need to remain alert for any signs of trouble. A puppy that is “reserved” with “strangers” that is, anyone outside the close circle of humans the puppy has had experience with, a puppy that shies away from human touch, or worse, one that escalates its communication to aggression such as growling, snapping when touched, when an item in its possession is removed, etc. spells E-MER-GEN-CY!!

Other less obvious signs of trouble is a puppy that cannot be left alone. When left alone, the puppy will whine and bark non-stop. This is the time when puppies must be taught to self-sooth.

Now, careful here, the goal is not to push the pup to a point the puppy cannot handle because of its young age. Instead, we need to gradually and daily work with our puppy while making sure that the puppy can handle the interaction with new people, novel things and experiences such as noises and solitude.

Interaction with other friendly puppies and especially friendly adults is a must. However, because there is so much to do I suggest exposing the puppy to friendly adult dogs once the puppy is a bit older. Our first priority should be socialization to people.

Socialization is such serious business that if I ever have a puppy again in my life I vow to take at least two weeks off to make sure I make my puppy comfortable at home and socialize him/her appropriately- believe me, you cannot over do it! I would also probably join two reputable puppy classes and take advantage of the strangers and puppy interaction made available this way.

If you cannot afford to take two weeks off I strongly suggest that you work with your puppy daily- even for a few minutes every day. In order to accomplish this, it is utterly important to arm yourself with valuable information as to what needs to take place and when. Put it on your daily schedule and commit to it with fiery dedication. Our job as “parents” to our present-day puppies is to keep in mind that dogs are always learning, so we need to continue exposing our adolescent and adult dogs to all sorts of novel things in positive ways.

In short: We should never stop socializing our dogs.