Puppy Socialization: Too much, too little, or just right?

by Tera Dschaak-James, ABCDT, KPA CTP

You’ll hear it over and over: socialization is key to getting a healthy, happy puppy. After that advice, however, everything falls apart – there seems to be little consistent information on how or when is appropriate to socialize your puppy. With so much information on the internet, in addition to advice from neighbors, friends, and strangers on the street, it can be stressful trying to find the ‘right’ way to socialize. Here’s our top tips on introducing your puppy to the world:

  1. Start socializing early. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (a highly respected organization researching the treatment and prevention of animal behavior issues), puppy socialization should start as soon as you bring your puppy home – generally around 7-8 weeks. While it is important to protect puppies from possible infectious diseases such as distemper and parvo, the AVSAB states that “behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age,” as under-socialized dogs are the most likely to be relinquished to shelters or euthanized due to behavior problems. A safe way to ensure your puppy is getting good socialization while being protected from infectious disease is to enroll them in a well-managed puppy class. 
  2. Quality socialization is carefully monitored. Preventing over-stimulation, excessive fear or avoidance is key to helping your puppy learn to navigate the world. Rather than throwing your puppy into a group of dogs, or forcing them to approach a fearful object, help your puppy feel safe to explore. Let your dog go at their own pace, and be sure to socialize them with friendly, vaccinated dogs that you know and trust to be gentle with your puppy. Keep the play short and sweet, and give your puppy a break every couple of minutes. Be sure to expose your dog to a variety of breeds – short haired dogs, flat faced dogs, fluffy dogs, big and small…the more kinds of dogs your puppy has positive play with, the better!
  3. Pick the right people. As one veterinary behaviorist said, half-joking, “no socialization plan is complete without men with hats and beards.” With adult dogs, the assumption is that if a dog is fearful of a particular kind of person, they may have been abused…however, it’s far more likely they simply didn’t encounter that kind of person during their primary socialization window. Give your puppy positive experiences with people of different genders, physical appearances, ages, and outfits! People in coats, wearing hats, with beards, carrying bulky bags or umbrellas, and wearing uniforms are all important to expose your puppy to in a safe, happy way.
  4. Objects and places matter too. It’s not just people and dogs that are important for your puppy to meet. Exposing your dog to car rides, bicycles, skate boards, umbrellas, curbside garbage cans, stairs and more is key to ensuring that they can handle whatever weird situations life throws at them!
  5. Variety is the spice of life. You don’t need to try and expose your puppy to literally everything – that may be very overwhelming for both of you! Instead, be sure to expose your puppy to novel objects, places and people every day. Doing so will teach your puppy that new dogs, people, places and things are a normal part of their life. This means that, as adults, when they experience a new situation, they will feel confident in their ability to handle it.Feeling overwhelmed with all the necessary parts of raising a puppy? We can help! We offer puppy consultations to get you and your new best friend off on the right paw.