Why and how? The importance of socializing a puppy

Puppy socialization

When getting a new puppy there are several important things you need to sort out, such as getting your puppy vet checked and vaccinated and starting with some basic training. One important thing you shouldn’t forget from your to do-list is starting with socialization. In this article I’ll talk about the importance of socializing a puppy and steps to follow to socialize your puppy.

New puppy care tips

Why?

Socialization means allowing your puppy to meet new dogs and people for the purpose of getting your puppy used to and comfortable with meeting new beings, both two- and four-legged.

The reason why socialization is so important is that it prevents your dog from becoming a social “outcast”, i.e. timid, shy or even aggressive towards strange dogs and humans.

All dog owners on their daily dog walks have encountered dogs that bark and go crazy when seeing another dogs. This is also known as dog reactivity, which can be prevented by proper socialization.

A very important aspect to remember is that the socialization window of a puppy is limited and falls between 8 to 16 weeks of age. So if socialization of a puppy is not started early enough, the opportunity for proper socialization of your dog might have been lost.

Exposing your dog to new humans is as important as exposing your puppy to new dogs as this will make your puppy curious and excited about meeting new people and prevent any unwanted scared or aggressive behavior.

My story

My puppy is a beaglier (beagle x cavalier cross) and he used to be very shy towards other dogs. I knew my puppy had a tendency to like humans over dogs as before I brought him home and when he was still with his brothers and sisters, he would rather play by himself than with his siblings.

Meeting new humans wasn’t an issue as my puppy used to think (and still thinks) people are the best thing that exists on earth.

I took my puppy to puppy school at around 10 weeks of age. This is when I really noticed my puppy’s shyness towards other dogs as he would get totally freaked out by the other puppies at the school. We had puppy play sessions, but during these my puppy was begging me to pick him up off the ground to save him from the other dogs.

I was very worried about my puppy’s shyness as I wasn’t sure if he’d ever grow out of it.

I then took it as my mission to start exposing my puppy to other dogs as much as possible. Luckily I live in an area where there are a lot of dogs, so on our daily walks I would ask other dog walkers if it was alright for my puppy to sniff their dog. My puppy generally seemed keen to sniff other dogs, he would only freak out if another dog tried to sniff him.

Little by little my puppy started showing playful interest towards other dogs. He liked dogs that were smaller than him and my puppy finally ended up having his first play sessions with other small dogs. I also started taking my puppy to dog parks and slowly he got less and less freaked out by the other dogs at the park

Over time and with persistence my puppy slowly came out of his shell. He is now at the stage where he’s genuinely interested in other dogs and will happily play with dogs. He can still be timid when it comes to bigger dogs or if a dog is an aggressive player. I’ve come to understand that my puppy doesn’t “speak dog” meaning he doesn’t know how to growl to say no to another dog if he’s feeling uncomfortable, which results in other dogs not understanding that they’re scaring my puppy.

Overall the socialization has paid off and my puppy is now at a much better place than where he used to be.

How?

So how do socialize a puppy? Let’s discuss some key steps.

1. Controlled environment

Some puppies naturally love to play with other dogs, but if your puppy is timid like mine was, it is important to expose your puppy to other dogs in a controlled environment.

As an example of a controlled environment is your own home or your friend’s home if your friend has a dog that is well-behaved for socialization purposes.

I wouldn’t go to a dog park first up as this is a very uncontrolled environment. Dog parks have lots of dogs with different personalities and you can’t control what happens and the whole situation can be very overwhelming for your timid puppy. I started taking my puppy to the dog park when I had already done some other forms of socialization. Thus, dog parks are an excellent place for further socialization when your puppy has gotten used to other dogs to some extent.

Socializing your dog on a leash is another way of generating a controlled environment, but be sure to ask other dog owners first if it is alright for your puppy to have a sniff of their dog before letting this happen.

Puppy friends

2. Puppy school

Puppy school provides another great environment for puppy socialization. I’ve never had any issues training my puppy at home, but the reason I enrolled him into puppy school was because I wanted to see how he behaved in a different environment to his home environment.

A good puppy school set-up is one where the puppies are segregated during training and after the training session they can have play in an area that is different to the training area. This will teach a puppy the difference between “work and play” and when they’re in their working area (i.e. the training section), they should focus on learning and not playing.

A safe place for puppies to play in is in a play pen and not in the wide open. Play time at puppy schools is also monitored in the presence of an experienced trainer, which makes play time safe. .

Some word of caution: when enrolling into puppy school, you won’t know beforehand what types of breeds and personalities will be present. The other puppies in my puppy’s school where all representatives of larger breeds and they were very playful, too playful in my puppy’s option. Due to this my puppy didn’t enjoy the playtime. In addition, puppies are not good at reading other dogs’ emotions, thus the puppies at the puppy school weren’t aware they were scaring my puppy, which added to my puppy’s discomfort. However, I still gained some valuable experience at the puppy school as in the presence of the trainer, I learned a lot of my puppy’s body language and got some tips on how to proceed with socialization.

Playful social dogs

3. Adult dogs

As mentioned in the paragraph above, young puppies are not good at reading other dog’s emotions. Thus, a safe way to socialize your dog is spending time with a well-behaved adult dog.

Mature dogs that are calm and don’t get annoyed by playful puppies are an excellent way to get a timid puppy to come out of its shell. Emotionally intelligent adult dogs can teach young puppies good manners, such as by letting them know if they’re getting too full on with their playing.

Finding an emotionally intelligent adult dog can be tricky, but you can by start by asking your friends and acquaintances. Sometimes puppy schools might also be able to point you to the right direction.

4. Don’t force it and reward good behavior

When dealing with a very timid puppy, it is important not to force socialization. Let your puppy and the other dog do their own thing when getting to know each other. If your puppy is scared about meeting a new dog, don’t reward your puppy’s shyness by picking up your puppy. Allow your puppy to run away if it wants to and just observe from distance.

As dogs are generally good at reading other dogs’ emotions they’ll usually leave a scared dog alone (young puppies generally don’t as they don’t have emotional intelligence). So in time, when your timid puppy doesn’t receive any interest from the other dog, it’ll become less scared and start showing curiosity towards the other dog.

Reward any good social behavior with praise and treats to show your puppy it is doing the right thing.

5. Exposure, exposure, exposure

Lastly, exposing your puppy to as many new dogs and people as possible is the most important step in ensuring adequate socialization. This will guarantee your dog doesn’t just accept one or two dogs, but will be interested to meet any new dog.

When I was in the socialization phase with my puppy, I tried to get him to meet at least 5 new dogs every day, which resulted in 35 new dogs in a week! This resulted in marked improvement in my puppy’s shyness within a couple of weeks. Like I said, I live in a very dog orientated area, which made meeting new dogs easy and occasionally we’d drive to new areas to meet even more new dogs. Once my puppy started being a bit more relaxed about meeting new dogs, I started taking him to dog parks.

Human exposure wasn’t as much of an issue as my puppy has always loved humans. However, just to be safe, I organized a few “meet the puppy” parties for my friends to have my puppy meet a wide variety of new people.

Best puppy friends

Different dogs have different personalities

I learned a valuable lesson from my puppy’s puppy school, which was that some dogs are “dog dogs” and some dogs are “human dogs”. This means that some dogs just love to run around and play with other dogs, whereas other dogs love human presence a lot more than dog presence.

My puppy is a human dog, meaning he’ll choose a human anytime over a dog. As owners, we have to come to accept these traits in our dogs and be aware that we won’t be able to completely change our dog’s personality. Regardless of our dog’s personality, we should try to do our best in terms of teaching our dog that it is a great thing to meet new dogs and humans, not a scary thing.

I hope this article gave you some valuable insight into puppy socialization. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a message below.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

To many happy barks & walks,

Lotta.