Puppy Socialization Checklist

The first four months are the most crucial development period in your pup’s life.

If you’ve not had a new puppy for many years, you might not be familiar with the term socialization. It’s not really a new concept, but it is one of the most important things you can do for your new puppy.

Socialization means the process of learning interpersonal and interactional skills that are acceptable in society. Translation: it’s when your puppy learns how to behave. Properly socialized dogs are accepting of new situations, people and animals. They are much less likely to become aggressive or fearful dogs. They are easier to board at a kennel, take to the vet or introduce to children.

And it really has to be your puppy, because the window for proper socialization is incredibly small. The most effective socialization takes place before 16 weeks of age. From the time you bring your puppy home, to the age of 16 weeks, you have a lot of fun work to do.

Many New Experiences
Collect as many new experiences for your puppy as you can and work hard to make them positive and enjoyable.

Invite many different people to meet your puppy. Aim for a wide mix of ages, from children to grandmas, as well as both men and women, and different ethnic backgrounds. Start with individuals and increase to the point that your pup is  comfortable with large groups.

It’s crucial that your young puppy meet other animals, but just as crucial that those animals be healthy and fully vaccinated. Friends with dogs that are non-aggressive are a great start. Try to introduce cats and wild birds too.

Loud Noises
How many dogs have you known that are afraid of thunderstorms? It’s quite common, but many dogs might be saved from this fear with proper socialization. What can you do? Unless pups are born in the summer, and experience thunderstorms within their first 12-16 months, they miss the crucial socialization period. Try exposing your pup to other loud noises, such as airplanes, motorcycles or other machinery.

Go for a car ride! Yes, most dogs seem to love car rides (while many cats detest them), but why take a chance that your pup’s a natural? Drive around for short trips and progress to longer rides. Combine your car trips with other new experiences. Drop in on a friend. Visit your Pet Valu store. Drive to a park with dirt paths if your pup is used to concrete sidewalks. Find an elevator to ride if you live in a house. You get the idea! Remember to introduce regular dog activities. Brush your pup, clip his nails and even bathe him. He’ll be used to these normal events when he’s older and they’ll be easy, enjoyable activities.

Think ahead
Try to picture your future and everything your pup will be exposed to in adulthood. For example, if you know you’re a camping family and your dog will be canoeing with you, it’s in everyone’s best interest to get your dog into a canoe, on water, within the first four months of her life. Now get going and have fun with your puppy! (Pretty easy, huh?)

Is it too late?
Adopting an adult dog? Or your puppy is now 10 months old and this is the first you’ve ever heard of socialization? Don’t panic. Older dogs can still learn new behaviors and adjust to new experiences. If you’re consistent and patient, you can still get your adult dog, into that canoe!

Is it safe?
Depending on who you ask or what you read, you will hear two schools of thought.

Socialization is key and puppies need to meet people and animals before 16 weeks of age.

Puppies should not interact with other dogs or go to public places before they have all their vaccinations (around 16 weeks, after the best socialization period). You have to decide for yourself, but generally it seems widely accepted to enroll in reputable puppy classes and arrange play with familiar, non-aggressive dogs that you know are healthy and fully vaccinated. Skip the dog park until your puppy is older, fully vaccinated and well-trained to your commands.

By Libbi Hood 

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