Early and frequent socialization is one of the most crucial components for raising your puppy to be a balanced and well adjusted adult dog, and unfortunately is also one of the most overlooked.
*Spoiler alert: the biggest mistake I made with my puppy was on socialization, and it affected him (and me!) deeply for the rest of his life!
What is socialization and why is it so important?
Socialization is simple at its core: it’s basically exposing your puppy to a variety of different situations in a positive way so they learn the world is not a scary place! It helps them develop confidence and become adult dogs who are adaptable to their environment (e.g., can enjoy novel experiences with your family!).
I cannot overemphasize that socialization should start EARLY; experts agree that 7 weeks to 4 months of age is the “socialization window” where puppies are more resilient and easily adapt to new stimuli. After this window closes, it becomes much much more difficult to expose them to new things in a positive way (of course, this depends a lot on the dog as an individual).
The critical error that I made as a puppy parent was not socializing my puppy with other dogs during this period. He got along great with the other puppies at the rescue and loved other dogs, so I didn’t think it was very important… a lesson I very much learned the hard way when trying to take him out around other dogs later in life, which resulted in a lot of traumatic experiences for me breaking up dog fights and a lot of very expensive vet bills. He loved other dogs, but he missed out on socializing during this period and learning proper ways to play and interact with other dogs, which turned into reactivity, and eventually he had to basically be separated from almost all other dogs for the rest of his life.
So what sort of things should you socialize your puppy around?
Car rides, other dogs, children, older people, people in hats/sunglasses/uniforms, vacuums, hair dryers, crutches, wheel chairs, different textures of flooring, loud noises (like fireworks), the mailman, the garbage truck… and so many more. There’s a very comprehensive checklist here.
You want to expose your puppy to all these new experiences and surroundings in a positive way, so make it fun and engaging for them! High value treats and praise are a great way to encourage and reassure your pup.
I also always recommend joining a puppy socialization class. There are lots in the area, but my personal favorite is Riverfront Dog Training— they allow the puppies to play/interact in a structured setting (aka the trainers supervise and intervene if play becomes too intense), while also starting to work on basic obedience, and have tons of fun props (like noisy water bottles, a wheel chair, vacuums, blow dryers, etc) to help you work on socializing and building your pups confidence. The trainers also check in with each family each week to see if you need tips for potty training and how things are going at home.
By socializing your puppy to new experiences/situations as early as possible and as often as possible, you’ll help ensure your puppy becomes a confident, adaptable adult dog who can spend time with your family enjoying all sorts of fun things!