What Exactly is Puppy Socialization?

August 3, 2011

You probably hear the word “socialization” tossed around a lot – especially if you have just acquired a new pup.  Your pup’s breeder insists that you need to “socialize”; the rescue organization your pup came from says you need to “socialize”.  But what does everyone actually mean by socialization?

What they mean is that not only do you have to introduce your pup to a lot of strange dogs of all shapes and sizes, but also to different humans and as many different species of animals as you can, particularly animals that your pup will contact in your home.  It also means that you should expose your pup to as many different environments as possible; as many different sounds as possible from babies crying or toddlers screaming and shouting to traffic sounds, vacuum cleaners, motorcycles.

Even more important than just exposure is for you to carefully observe your pup’s reaction.  Your goal should be that your pup’s experiences should be positive, not neutral or bad ones.  If your pup’s response to either the environment, person, object or handling is either overarousal (nipping, barking, growling or lunging), avoidance or freezing, then this particular item needs more work.  On the other hand, if the pup stays calm and relaxed, explores the object or environment, is playful and stays focussed on the food, or is all these things even without the food, then you know that your socialization is going well.

Some specific things you need to add to your list are:

Handling – in addition to the more obvious ones, cradling your pup in your arms, squeezing his paws, putting on his collar or harness, grabbing and pulling at his collar – all these things very gently, of course.

Different people, such as people with canes, people with uneven gaits, people with sunglasses, and so on.

Less obvious surfaces such as wet grass, manhole covers, stairs.

Also, blankets or rugs being shaken out, brooms, balloons…

Socialization is much, much easier to do during the Critical Period (before the pup turns 16 weeks) than later in the pup’s life.  Definitely worth it.

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