What is Socialization and why is it so important?
Of course, we want the best for our animals, but often as pet owners we often overlook a crucial part of healthy development from pup-hood to adulthood; socialization. It seems safe, easy and convenient to keep your puppy at home away from threats, hazards and diseases of the outside world, however there are benefits of socializing dogs from a young age that outweigh the potential risks.
Socialization is the process of exposing your dog to other people, animals, places and objects, in a controlled and positive manner. The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. Improper or incomplete socialization during this important time can increase the risk of behavioral problems including, fear, avoidance, and/or aggression. Behavioral problems are a leading cause of relinquishment to shelters, which may lead to the euthanasia of these animals. Because the first three months are the critical period when sociability outweighs fear, this is the primary window of opportunity for puppies to be introduced to new animals, peoples, smells and sounds, allowing them to be more comfortable and adaptable to new situations and environments. Socialization should be based on positive reinforcement, with frequent reward praise, petting, play and/or treats.
Although puppy immune systems are still developing during these early months of age, the combination of maternal antibodies, primary vaccinations, and appropriate care make it safer to get puppies outside in new situations. Encouraging puppies to explore, investigate, and manipulate their environments allows them to become more confident when interacting with different people, well-socialized animals, situations, and places. Puppy socialization classes can offer a safe and structured form of socialization. Prior to entering the class, each puppy participant should have started their vaccination series and be internal and external parasite free.
Early socialization activities may include some of the following:
- Touching and handling different parts of the dog’s body; including feet, belly and ears.
- Car rides and informal vet visits to create early positive experiences.
- Interactive toys and games to encourage play and exploration.
- Puppy play dates with new people, children and vaccinated pets.
- Crate or pen training to prevent cage stress in the future.
Starting socialization off right
Properly socializing a young animal is a large commitment that requires time and effort. Before bringing a new puppy home, assess if you are prepared for of the responsibility and commitment puppyhood brings, as your level of dedication to socialization can influence the dog’s behaviors for the rest of his life.
- As a household, form a plan for equal participation in the socialization process. The arrival of a new dog is exciting, but from that first day to first week, slowly build up interactions and socialization levels to allow your puppy time to adapt to its new environment is important.
- Start by keeping them confined to one room and provide them plenty of time to explore and discover the sights and scents of their new home. Have members of the household spend time with the puppy in their designated room during the first few days. Once the puppy has become more comfortable in his environment and around the family, gradually introduce the puppy to new areas.
Spending too much time with your puppy early on can lead to separation anxiety issues, while leaving them alone and unattended frequently can result in anxious behaviors such as chewing and destroying.
- Spend as much time as possible at home with your new puppy as you can, but ensure you are scheduling alone time for your puppy even if you are still home. This will help them get comfortable around you, but still teach them to amuse themselves when you aren’t around.
- Provide safe chew toys and remove any items that could be ingested or destroyed.
- Ensure your puppy is in a safe room, crate, or pen where they can feel comfortable and entertained when alone.
- Proper confinement training using crates or pens helps ensure puppies have a safe and secure place for rest and confinement.
Click Here For Our Puppy Socialization Checklist:
Gabby Alonzo, Jordyn DeHaan, Hannah Urig, MPH, DVM
Read Puppy Socialization 101 Series | Part 2