The ABCs of Puppy Socialization
How to help your puppy grow into a people-friendly dog.
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Within the socialization window is what some experts call the fear period, around 8 to 10 or 11 weeks of age, when puppies can react strongly to new things and make deep associations with certain people and situations. Proceed carefully with socializing your puppy during this period. Take small steps, and rely on your knowledge of your individual puppy. Some puppies learn quickly, others are shy, and still others are dominant. All three of these types learn at different rates. Two good general rules, however, are to take a puppy into a large group only after having socialized him to smaller groups, and to introduce him to new people, scenes, or objects only when you can control the experience.
What Is Socialization and How Do I Do It?
Socialization is commonly described as introducing a puppy to the people, animals, and objects that will be in his environment. But it goes beyond introducing to familiarizinghelping your puppy learn how to interact with or respond to these new things appropriately and without fear. Suzanne Johnson, a certified animal behaviorist, has a doctorate in psychology with a specialty in animal behavior and is the retired owner of Animal Behavior Associates in Beaverdam, Va. She explains that the purpose of socialization is to set boundaries on what a puppy can and cannot do. It teaches him to perform in society and to be accepted.
To come up with ideas for socializing your puppy, consider what things your own everyday life involves that his whether you got him from a breeder or at a shelter or rescue probably hasn't. In the home, this can include the vacuum cleaner, stairs, his grooming tools (brush, comb, and nail clippers), running water, fans, mirrors, and appliances that make sudden, loud noises (hair dryer, blender, garbage disposal, etc.).
Outside the home, myriad socialization opportunities await you and your dog. From umbrellas, people wearing hats, men with facial hair, and large crowds of people to wheelchairs, cars, and bicycles, new things are around every corner. The more of them you can introduce your dog to when he is a puppy, the more confident he will be as an adult.
Don't forget to introduce your puppy to children, whose high-pitched voices and unexpected movements can frighten or arouse aggression in adult dogs who haven't had the chance to get familiar with them. Closely supervise meetings between puppies and children to make them a positive experience for both. "One of the best sources of socialization will come from a 4- to 5-year-old supervised child," Johnson says. "Children will lie on the ground and play with the puppy. They play like another puppy."
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