Socialize Your Puppy: The When’s, Why’s, and How’s

If you socialize your puppy, dog training and dog behavior will be better, later in life.

Socializing your puppy is perhaps the best way to ensure you have a happy, healthy, and confident dog for life. We all want our dogs to enjoy life’s adventures with us, and socialization teaches them to accept new things, people, and environments in stride. This in turn allows a dog to be adaptable and therefore less likely to experience aggression and other behavioral problems (one of the top reasons that dogs and surrendered to shelters). Don’t let that happen by learning when, why, and how to socialize your puppy.

When to Socialize Your Puppy

The “when” question is a key component to successful socialization. Although it’s possible to socialize an older dog, there is a window of time, between 7 weeks and 4 months of age, during which puppies are much more open to this type of training. During this time, your puppy should be gently exposed to a wide variety of people, places, and things.

We always advocate for adoption, as there are so many dogs and puppies in need of loving homes. But if you do buy your puppy from a responsible breeder, the process can start even earlier. Gentle handling during the first 3 weeks of age is helpful in the development of a friendly, confident dog.  

Why to Socialize Your Puppy

Proper socialization can prevent a dog from being fearful of children, of riding in a car, or of going to the veterinarian (ahem!). Helping your puppy become acclimated to all types of sights, sounds, and smells in a positive manner can go far to saving his life someday. Improper socialization can lead to behavior problems later in life. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior states that behavioral issues – not infectious diseases – are the number one cause of death in dogs under 3 years of age.

And, if your dog is lost, being socialized can increase the chances that a friendly stranger can keep him safe until you locate him.

How to Socialize Your Puppy

Now for the nitty gritty. When your puppy comes home with you, the crucial socialization period begins. Every interaction with you is both a learning and a teaching moment: your puppy is learning, and you are teaching.

Make it positive –  most importantly, when introducing your puppy to new things, make it positive. Keep plenty of treats flowing (breaking them into tiny pieces helps make sure your puppy doesn’t overdo it). Give lots of praise as well as treats to establish with your puppy that new things are good and fun.

Introduce him to new sights, sounds, and smells – everything is new to your puppy. Think of as many different people, places, textures, and smells as you can. Have him walk on different surfaces – carpet, tile, wood, wet pavement. Have him meet an old person, a young person, someone with an umbrella, someone wearing sunglasses.

Baby steps – you do want to take things slow as to not overwhelm your puppy. Have him meet one friend at a time several times and then gradually add more people, for example. Socialize your puppy slowly to have the most positive results and keep him confident and secure.

Involve your family – of course, your puppy won’t be learning only from you. Every interaction he has with your family is also teaching him, so make sure all family members understand the goals and responsibilities of socializing your puppy. Your puppy may eventually experience something new no matter who he’s with, and so it’s smart to help him build confidence with all the humans in his life, including your kids.

Take it public – your new puppy should come in to see us within the first 48 hours that you have him. Let us know when you schedule your appointment that you have a new puppy, and we’ll help you protect him from disease and make visiting the veterinarian a positive experience for him from the beginning!

After your puppy is fully vaccinated against infectious diseases, you may want to enroll him in a puppy class. Puppy classes are great ways to further socialize your puppy to riding in the car, new dogs and people, and new smells and places. Skilled trainers teach the classes, ensuring all puppies have good experiences. Ask us for our recommendations in our area.

It’s so exciting to have a new puppy, and by putting these tips into practice, you’ll be well on your way to having a well adjusted and happy dog. The team at Rocklin Ranch Veterinary Hospital can’t wait to meet your new addition, and we’re happy to answer any questions you have.