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  • Writer's pictureLiz MacHaffie

Puppy Socialization

Socialization is the #1, super, extra, ultra, most important "training" you will ever do for your puppy! (And the most fun!)

What is socialization?

  • Positive exposure to people, places, and things!

  • Think of all the things you would like your puppy to be comfortable with as an adult (The vacuum cleaner? Going camping? The vet? Children?) Ideally, your pup is exposed to the different kinds of people, sights, textures, environments, smells, and sounds he is likely to encounter over his lifetime.

  • Socialization maximizes the chances of your pup becoming a well-adjusted adult. Just like a vaccine, socialization isn’t a guarantee, but it's the best insurance you can provide against fear and behavior problems in the future.

The Critical Socialization Period

  • There is a short window of time when puppies’ brains are especially open to accepting new stimuli as good and not scary!

  • After this window closes, puppies are increasingly less open to accepting new things. New things are more likely to cause fear.

  • The critical socialization period lasts from 3 weeks to somewhere between 12 and 14 weeks. The exact period varies from pup to pup.

  • After this, your puppy still needs continued socialization :) Socialization is for life, but this period is the time it's most critical!

Top Tips for Socializing

  • Introduce your pup to the person/object/sound (the “stimulus”).

  • Allow your pup to approach the stimulus on his own. (You can approach it to encourage him, but never drag him with his leash or pick him up and place him closer if he's scared.)

  • Use a happy tone of voice.

  • If needed, start with a low-intensity and then gradually build it up. (i.e. Introduce the vacuum cleaner while it is OFF first, then while it is moving, then ON from a distance away.)

  • Watch your pup’s body language to ensure he is happy and comfortable.

Body Language to Look For

  • A happy, relaxed pup is exactly what you want to see! A wiggly body, relaxed face, wagging tail, and eagerness to approach are good signs.

  • A neutral puppy can be okay, too! Neutral puppies may not pay much attention to the stimulus, but they are able to eat treats, engage in play, and don't show signs of stress.

  • If your pup is stressed, here’s how you’ll know:

  • Fleeing: Your puppy looks away or walks away (or runs!)

  • Freezing: Your puppy won't move towards the stimulus or moves really slowly. Your pup's body is tense instead of wiggly and loose.

  • Fidgeting: Your pup licks his lips, yawns, sniffs, grooms himself, or otherwise seems suddenly preoccupied...

  • Read the puppy’s whole body. (A wagging tail doesn’t always mean he’s feeling happy!) Your best indicator is the tension in your pup's body: if he's tense/stiff, he's likely stressed. If he's loose and wiggly, it's more likely he's comfortable.

How to Help Scared Puppies

  • Stressed puppy? Get SPACE! Distance from the thing is often key! (Is a spider scarier when it's 5 feet away or 50 feet?) Move further away, make it quieter, ask people to crouch down and turn sideways, etc.

  • Get happy! A happy voice and friendly interactions with the stimulus can help. Walk up and interact with the stimulus. If it’s a sound, get excited and playful every time it happens. It might feel a little silly, but it can make a big difference for pups, who will often look to you for how to respond.

  • Take a break. It’s better to give him a break than let him be overwhelmed by what’s going on.

  • If your pup displays fear or aggression, seek help ASAP. It's okay if your pup doesn't love everything, and sometimes he just needs more time! If your pup shows signs of fear and/or aggression during socialization, stop socializing him to that particular stimulus. If you have any concerns at all, contact us.

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