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Socializing your puppy — why it matters

Heed these takeaways:

  • Socialization is crucial if you want to raise a happy and well-behaved dog.
  • You can socialize your puppy by giving him positive exposure to new people, environments and situations.
  • The critical socialization period occurs in your puppy’s first three months of life.
  • Dogs that aren’t properly socialized can be fearful, aggressive and potentially develop other behavior problems.

Raising a puppy is one of life’s most joyous and rewarding experiences. It’s also a big responsibility.

Although puppyhood is a time of playful exuberance and heart-melting cuteness, it’s also a crucial period in your pup’s development. While he’s tackling each day and each new challenge with enthusiasm and wide-eyed wonder, your pup is learning a whole lot of life lessons. And if you want your dog to grow into a confident and well-behaved member of the family, these lessons are crucial.

And that’s where socialization comes in.

Image by Helena Sushitskaya from Pixabay

What is socialization?

Socialization is all about teaching your puppy how to be part of society. If you want to raise a polite and well-mannered dog, you’ll need to teach him how to act in a socially acceptable way.

And to do that, you need to expose him to plenty of different experiences, places and people while he’s still a puppy. The more he learns while he’s still growing and developing, the more confident and calm he’ll be when faced with new situations as an adult dog.

Why is socialization important?

Life might be a whole lot more enjoyable if dogs were in charge, but they’re not. Instead, our fur-babies need to learn how to fit into human society.

As a pet parent, it’s your responsibility to raise a dog who is confident dealing with whatever life may throw him. A properly socialized dog will be comfortable meeting new people, going to new places and dealing with unfamiliar situations.

On the flipside, a dog who wasn’t properly socialized as a puppy is much more likely to respond with fear or even aggression when faced with something new. He’s much more likely to perceive harmless everyday situations as threatening, and he’ll be a lot less happy (and a lot less well-behaved) as a result.

When to socialize a puppy

When should you start socializing your puppy? As soon as possible.

The critical socialization period for your puppy is in the first three months of life. The experiences your pup has during this time will help shape his behavior for the rest of his life.

Responsible breeders gently handle and interact with their puppies before they go to their new homes, giving them positive exposure to as many new experiences as possible. And right from the very first day you welcome a puppy into your family, it’s vital that you continue the socialization process.

How to socialize a puppy

The good news is that socializing your puppy is easy. Remember, the aim here is to give your pup positive experiences of as many new people, environments and experiences as possible, and there are plenty of ways to help broaden your pet’s horizons. These include:

  • Puppy school. Want to teach your puppy how to interact with other dogs and how to politely meet new dogs? Puppy classes are the perfect environment, and will also help your pet master some basic obedience commands.
  • Get out and about. Whenever possible, take your puppy with you when you go out. Introduce him to new people, take him to different environments, and take him to places where he’s likely to come across new sights, sounds and smells. Daily walks, trips to the park, visits to friends’ houses, even just riding in the car — all of this is new to your fur-baby.
  • Be a people person. Men and women, young and old, tall and short — try to help your puppy meet as many different people as possible. But don’t expect your puppy to feel comfortable meeting a whole room full of new people straight away. Keep it slow and steady to avoid overwhelming him.
  • Keep it positive. You want your dog to associate new experiences with good things, so give plenty of treats, praise and cuddles as you introduce your pup to new situations.
Finally, don’t forget that you’ll also need to balance your puppy’s socialization needs with the need to protect him against infectious disease. Ask your vet for advice on how to safely socialize your pup before he is fully vaccinated.
With a patient and committed approach to socialization, you’ll be giving your pup the best possible start to life. Put in the hard work now and the reward will be a confident and well-behaved dog for life.
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