How to Socialize Your Puppy Safely: top 10 strategies
It is so important that you socialize your puppy safely. We all know the risk of a dog catching a deadly infectious disease is worse when they are puppies and have not completed their vaccinations. Did you know though that that behavioral problems are the biggest causes of death in adolescent and young adult dogs under 3 years of age? Socialization is key to ensure your dog grows up to be free from behavioral problems, free from aggression issues and is not scared in common situations. Safe socialization is vital for the health and well being of your dog.
It is well known that a young puppy's brain is like a sponge. It takes in everything it comes across in the early weeks of life and files them in the normal category, nothing to see here, no reason to be afraid, no need to get defensive or aggressive. This critical period takes place between about 3 and 12 to 16 weeks of age. After this time it becomes progressively harder to get a pup or adult dog to accept new experiences, objects, people, noises and situations as normal and safe.
What this means is that a grown dog that has not come across a situation before is much more likely to show signs of fear or aggression compared to a dog who experienced that situation as a young puppy.
To learn more about why proper early puppy socialization is so important make sure you head over to my article all about what can happen if you don't socialize your puppy properly. It won't take long for you to realize that this may very well be the most important thing you ever do for your dog!
The problem with getting your pup to experience as many different people, animals, noises, vehicles and environments in this period is that a puppies vaccination course will generally not be complete until 16 weeks of age. If we leave socialization until they are fully protected from the likes of parvovirus it will be too late. So how can we manage this risk?
In areas where parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis or rabies are common, the recommendations may differ slightly and in every instance you should be discussing socialization with your vet. they will have local knowledge on the opportunities available to your pup and safe areas to visit. I believe however that the following recommendations will help ensure your dog grows into a well rounded individual, while at the same time minimizing their risk of disease.
1 - Mix only with healthy dogs that are known to have been fully vaccinated or healthy puppies that are going through their vaccination program.
This will allow them to still meet and play with lots of different breeds and sizes of dogs. It is important that this play time is supervised so that your pup avoids getting an injury from playing with enthusiastic larger dogs.
2 - Meet all your friends and family.
These are the people who will meet your dog regularly throughout their life. An early introduction will prevent your dog from being scared or aggressive towards them. Young children especially can be very scary to an older dog who has never had to deal with them before. Also think about walking sticks, wheelchairs and any other props that people may need for daily life.
3 - Enroll in puppy classes where all attendees will have been required to have had their first vaccination and be healthy.
Well run, structured puppy classes are a great opportunity to socialize with other people and other puppies. They are also often run by your local vet clinic which really helps them accept going to the vets as a fun experience, rather than one to be feared. It is often easy for me to know which dogs attended puppy class even when they reach old age. They always remember where the treats are kept!
These classes are also a great opportunity to discuss routine healthcare and basic training with the veterinary team and even go through a basic clinical exam. If you handle your dog over their entire body they are more likely to accept this being done by a vet when they are unwell. There is little more frustrating as a vet than being unable to provide proper care to a sick dog because they are too aggressive.
4.Explore enclosed gardens and properties that have no recent history of parvovirus.
This allows your pup to experience different environments and come across different objects. Because parvovirus can live in the soil for a year or more knowing the history of the property is important.
5 - Get used to traveling in different vehicles.
It can be very tedious having to battle with your dog because they are scared of going in the car. Start off with very short trips or even just sitting in the car with the engine running. If you have different vehicles then alternating between them can also help. Driving around also allows your pup to experience lots of different sighs, sounds and smells.
6 - Experience all the different sounds they will come across in daily life.
These may be loud traffic, fireworks, gun shot, thunder, building noise and crying babies. This can be tricky depending on the time of year, but if you know your pet will hear certain noises in the future then even playing them recordings of the noise will help them accept it (this is great too for any dog already with a noise phobia). Doing it this way also means you can start off more quietly and slowly increase the volume to realistic levels over a few weeks.
7 - While they are small enough, carrying your puppy up and down busy streets.
This will ensure they are introducing to lots of different people of different genders, ethnicity, size, age, clothing, etc. Everyone loves to make a fuss off a puppy. They will also experience the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Puppies can also be pushed around in a pram or buggy if they are unable to be carried. Just make sure they are well secured because you don't want them jumping or falling out.
8 - Walking on the beach below the high tide line
If you live by the sea then this is generally considered safe as any contaminated material is likely to have been washed away. It's also a great fun place to play.
9 - Start training straight away.
Most puppies will go to their forever home at around 8 weeks of age. This leaves only 4 weeks of the critical socialisation period to work with. Come up with a plan before you pick up your pup. Take some time off work. Whatever it takes, this is too important an issue to ignore. Starting training basics like sit, stay and recall early will cement them into your puppy, sew the seed for future training as well as fast track the amazing bond we form with our pets.
10 - Keep up your socialisation effort for the first year of life.
You may not manage to include everything in your first month together. Don't stop. Learning is a lifelong process and the first year is still a great period to target, it's just not quite as easy as in the first 3 months of a pups life.
My puppy socialization checklist will help make sure you cover all of the most important noises, objects, people, animals and experiences. Take the guess-work out of socialization and make your life easier (having a new puppy is a busy time!).
So those are my top tips for safe socialization. As for what not to do and where not to go, at all costs popular dog exercise areas or places where other unknown dogs are frequently walked should be avoided as these are hot spots for the spread of all manner of infectious diseases.
For those of you with shy pups you should let them take things at their own pace. Avoid over stimulation or forcing them into situations where they are clearly unsure, uncomfortable or afraid. This can actually make things worse. Instead schedule more frequent but shorted length exposure to these problem situations and they will soon get over any trepidation. Just be sure to work at their pace rather than yours.
As a final thought, if you get an older pup or you are worried that they are developing any behavioral issues speak to a trained professional straight away, be that a vet, qualified trainer of behaviorist. Ignoring the problem will only make it much harder to correct at a later date. Behavioral issues do not simple go away if ignored, they get worse.
I hope this article really helps kick start you and your puppies life together. They bring us such joy, socialization really isn't much to ask. If you have any questions, socialization tips or any topics you would like covered in future videos please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you. Also sign up to our newsletter to make sure you don't miss any future content and allow me to continue to help you and your pet live a healthier, happier life.
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