How do I socialize my puppy? (download PDF here)

Socialization is one of the big buzz words in dog training.  Early socialization - before 16 weeks of age - is where puppies are still curious.  Fear levels are lower.  Owners should make socialization the number one priority.

Well socialized animals are capable of handling normal daily events without undue fear.  Unfortunately, most owners don't go about it the correct way.  They socialize too little, allow negative experiences to happen or coddle the puppy at inappropriate times.

Correctly done, your dog will be exposed to a wide array of novel things and situations in a positive manner.  Those situations should push you out of your comfort zone.

Before you begin have a conversation with your puppy's veterinarian.  Vaccination schedules can vary significantly.  Your pet's veterinarian can tell you when it is safe to begin exposing your puppy to other dogs and higher risk areas.  They will also tell you when it is safe to begin puppy classes.  The sooner you know this information - the sooner you can get registered.

In the meantime, remember that there are plenty of activities you can and should engage in.  Schedule short car rides to get your puppy accustomed to vehicles.  Invite plenty of people over.  Your puppy should meet at least 100 people before it is 16 weeks of age.

You can also schedule play dates with friendly, healthy and vaccinate dogs.  Select your puppy's playmates carefully.  Prospective playmates should be tolerant, friendly and well versed in dog skills.

Well socialized playmates can teach your puppy how to play well with others.  Do not allow your puppy to get bullied.  It's a negative experience and will only teach it become defensive.

Once vaccinations have been completed, the real work begins.  Seek out situations that your dog will not face in normal daily life in your home.

For example, families without children need to actively look for areas where children are present.  Do take care when exposing your puppy to young children.  Mobs of excited children can frighten puppies. Choose a location that has a fence that provides a barrier between enthusiastic children and young animals.

Families without seniors living close by need to look for situations that expose their dogs to canes, walkers and other assistive devices.  Fall puppies need to hear sounds like thunder and rain.  They likely will not hear those noises for at least another 6 months.  Dig out old C.D.'s with rolling thunder in the background.  Play them quietly at first and gradually bring the volume up.  Country dogs need trips to the city, and city dogs need trips to the country.

There are hundreds of situations and it is impossible to over socialize your puppy.  Speak to your puppy class trainer to get ideas and suggestions for places to go and things to do.

During these outings, pay close attention to the tone you are setting.  Dogs read facial expressions better than chimps.  If you look nervous, your puppy will feed off your energy.  Do not enable fearful behaviour.

Instead smile and encourage your puppy to explore and get over fears.  Use food treats as required.  Give your dog confidence through your positive demeanor.  Keep things fun and your dog will respond.

Do not stop socializing your puppy when it reaches 16 weeks of age.  Many service dog organizations and working dogs - the dogs with the highest expectations on their backs - spend the first year in socialization and basic obedience.  If you want a stable and friendly pet you should too.