Your dog may encounter hundreds or thousands of different places, people, animals, sights, and sounds throughout his or her life. Some of these encounters may be very frightening, loud, anxious, and/or confusing. Our job, as pet owners, is not to avoid all of the potentially negative experiences, but it’s to teach our pet how to react and cope with those situations.
Dogs have a sensitive period towards socialization between the ages of 3 and 12 weeks when it is important to have your puppy safely experience as many different situations as possible. (The age span may vary a little depending on breed.) Your puppy usually does not have a full set of vaccinations at this point, so it is important to carefully screen the encounters. This is especially important when meeting other dogs. Make sure that you are familiar with every dog that your puppy meets and that all the dogs are healthy. When your dog is still a puppy, it is best to stay away from dog parks and other places where many dogs frequent, because there is a higher chance that your puppy may get sick from something they encounter. Try and get your puppy to meet as many dogs as possible that you know and that are healthy. Finding a variety of dogs will be highly beneficial; different breeds, shapes, sizes, and ages. There are probably several dogs that are already near you; your neighbor’s dog, other family member’s dogs, and other litter mates if possible.
Taking your dog to obedience school and socialization classes is also a great way to get your puppy acquainted with other dogs and people. Your dog will get the opportunity to meet many different breeds and sizes of dogs in a new environment. He or she will learn how to properly greet other dogs through experience and by watching other dogs that greet each other with good manners. Some classes may meet at different locations to add unfamiliar distractions to the socialization process. The added distractions help the dog generalize the behaviors that are being learned and reinforced. Many classes introduce many random obstacles, sights, and sounds just for this purpose.
It is also good to have your puppy meet as many humans as possible during this crucial socialization period. Introduce your puppy to a myriad of people. Remember to be conscious of making sure they are introduced to an assortment. You will want your puppy to interact with people that are young and old, tall and short, skinny and plus size, male and female. Be sure to think outside the box on this one as well and have them meet people with hats, people who are bald, people with canes, and people in wheel chairs to name a few. The more people your dog meets, the better. Make sure all encounters are very friendly and pleasant.
Just because your puppy is well socialized between the ages of 3 and 12 weeks, does not mean you should stop socializing your dog. The process of socialization should continue throughout a dog’s life. Dogs, like humans, go through an adolescent stage between the ages of 6-18 months. Their bodies change and keeping consistency in all training and socialization is very important. In her book, “The Other End of the Leash”, Dr. Patricia McConnell talks about “juvenile-onset shyness”. This refers to a period where adolescent dogs may become more cautious and even aggressive towards other dogs or people. They can become more protective and territorial. An indicator of juvenile-onset shyness may be that you notice your dog barking more and more frequently at people passing your yard or home. If your dog starts to exhibit that behavior, that is a sign to get your dog out more and meet more people. Take more walks around the neighborhood, visit dog parks, or get involved with dog sports or activities that involve more dogs and people.
When well socialized, your dog will be a more pleasant, well behaved companion when reaching adulthood. Trips to the park, your kid’s sporting events, and other outings will be more enjoyable when your dog calmly interacts with people and other animals. Continue to take your dog to new and exciting places throughout all stages of life.
Bottom line, allow your dog to experience more, experience life! A well socialized dog is a happier, less anxious and less aggressive dog.
Good job! You just made a better life for the both of you!