You hear trainers, vets, and breeders say it all the time. “Socialize your puppy early and often”. Well, I get asked a lot, and I see it done wrong a lot, “what does socializing my dog look like. What do I do? Not do?” So, I figured it would be a good subject to talk about here.
I’ll start with saying, socializing, when properly done, is one of the most important things you can do for your dog’s well-being. I’ll add, socialization starts within the litter. This is why it is imperative puppies stay with their littermates until at least 8 weeks old. Failure to do so sets the dog up for later issues. This is especially true with certain breeds (working type dogs). When picking a puppy, I always like to see them interact within the litter. See who is a bully, who is submissive, who is shy, who is independent, etc.
So, now you have your puppy at home. Now what? Vaccines! I strongly recommend you finish your dog’s vaccination regimen before getting little Fluffy out on the town (or anywhere else). Their immune system is simply not ready to tackle the world yet. Follow your veterinarian’s guidelines. During this time it is the best time to simply bond with your dog. Potty training, lots of hand feeding, and teaching basic manners are good things to pass the time during this phase.
Now, your puppy is roughly 4 months old, had his shots, bonded with you. Now what? The dog park!?! In a word…NO. There are those who will disagree. I’m ok with that. Here’s my take...”there’s no true good for the average puppy coming from an off leash dog park. But, we’ll discuss that another day.
I take my young puppies out to more and more distracting places as they are ready. The first places are the easier ones. Tractor Supply, an empty park, places where we will encounter people, but hopefully not other dogs. At all places, I’m asking my dog to simply relax. I’ll have treats and praise and pet as needed, but the dog’s job is to just be neutral. You’ll hear me use that word a good bit, neutral. Not too excited, not fearful, just relax and be neutral, blend in. During this phase I will allow strangers to pet my puppy. However, the puppy must stay in control, feet on the ground, no biting, no demanding anything. And all attention comes under my say so. I go ahead and start teaching the dog to wait for permission to approach people. They don’t get to self release. They must wait for a “free” marker to allow them to break from my side. Don’t worry, if that’s confusing, I cover it with my customers.
After these first few outings, it’s time to add a little more. Think, the vet’s office, pet stores, Home Depot, etc. Same rules apply. I may or may not allow anyone to pet the dog. What I ask for is the dog to focus on me. Disregard other people, dogs, equipment, etc.
This is an especially good time to make sure the dog stays neutral around other dogs. YOU must be your young dog’s advocate. All dog owners aren’t aware of how rude their dogs are. I never allow a dog to approach or to stay in my dog’s face. I remove my dog from that. I don’t allow them to initiate it, nor do I ask them to accept it. That is a problem waiting to happen.
This isn’t a place in my training where I worry about someone else’s feelings. They’ll get over it. I will not accept my dog getting snapped, scared, or hurt for someone else’s ignorance. PERIOD. These are the things problem dogs are made of.
Back to the positive….Your Vet will think you are amazing. Your dog will think the Vet’s office is amazing. Take treats. Make him happy, go into an exam room, treats, praise, petting, then exit. Nothing bad happened. No shots, nothing up the rear, nothing bad. Just praise, petting, treats, and we’re out of there. Do it 3 times and see how your puppy likes the Vet’s office after.
Hint… Leave before you think you should. These visits take 3-4minutes max. Don’t linger. Leave on a high note.
By the 3rd time, I’m really asking my youngster to focus around all the distractions, especially other dogs. This is teaching the young dog to accept environmental changes while paying attention to me. That is my goal in socializing. Not having my dog entertained by other dogs. That presents too many opportunities for my dog to learn bad things. Ignoring me, dog aggression, dog reactivity, self-rewarding, just to name some. I want my dog neutral in all environments. This is where it all starts. Right from the start, it’s ALL about relationships!