Socialization is the greatest gift we can give our puppies. But it's a gift with an expiration date. After your pup hits about 16 weeks, socialization isn't nearly as effective, and won't have the same permanent results. Which is why it's critically important to weed out some of the advice you may find on socialization that is outdated, ineffective, or even potentially dangerous.
I've compiled what I feel is the latest and greatest information regarding socialization with other dogs, as well as the techniques I've found to be most helpful for my clients. If you have anything to add, please write your ideas in the comments below!
- Don't wait until your pup is fully vaccinated. For years, veterinarians recommended that puppies completely avoid other dogs until after they're fully vaccinated. But we now know that the risk of a pup contracting an illness is far outweighed by the behavioral risks that come with lack of early socialization. Check out the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior's position statement on the subject.
- Avoid dog parks and pet stores. The exception to tip #1 includes places heavy in dog traffic, including dog parks and pet stores. Places like this, where dogs of unknown vaccination history may frequent, are not a safe place for your puppy to hang out. Plus, there are much safer ways to socialize your pup with other dogs!
- Host a puppy play date. If you have a friend with a puppy or friendly adult dog, set up a playdate at your home or theirs. This low-key, safe environment is the perfect recipe for appropriate socialization. If you don't know anyone in your area with friendly dogs, try an app like NextDoor, or join some local Facebook groups to find other well-intentioned pet parents in your area.
- Find a well-run puppy class. I strongly emphasize "well-run" here. Puppy classes abound in most areas, but they aren't all created equal. Puppy classes shouldn't have more than 6-7 pups for an average size space, and the pups should be separated by age and size. The trainer should require veterinary records for the puppies to ensure that everyone is up-to-date on vaccinations, and the area should be sanitized before and after the pup's arrival. Play should be monitored closely by the trainer to make sure no bullying or overly rough play occurs.
- Let your pup explore the world at his pace. We humans are notorious for wanting to "fix" things by pushing our pups faster than they're ready to go. If you have a shy or nervous puppy, don't put them in situations that make them uncomfortable in the hopes of "socializing" them. You will see greater success in lots of small-scale interactions where your pup has the option to hide, watch from a distance, or leave the area if he's uncomfortable. The power of choice is incredible; when puppies have the ability control their interactions with other dogs, they will often grow more confident and curious about them.
- Know what's normal, and what warrants professional help. If your puppy is showing any sort of aggressive or fearful behavior, early intervention is critical. Barking at or hiding from strangers, growling, snapping, and guarding toys or food warrant help from a professional to ensure that proper training is provided as quickly as possible.Feel free to contact us (even if just for a referral for a qualified trainer in your area!) for help.