There are many things to do when you bring a new puppy home: finding a veterinarian; getting the right food; potty training; crate training; and getting a bed, leashes and toys. Although all of these things are important, one of the most important things you can do is to properly socialize your puppy.
A puppy’s prime socialization period is from about 3-12 weeks. During this period puppies learn about the world including what objects, people and environments that are safe. During the socialization period, you want to avoid things that may lead to a fearful experience.
If your puppy does experience something scary, try to reintroduce the experience in a positive way. For example, if a puppy gets scared at the veterinary hospital make sure you go back to the hospital for multiple fun, treatment free visits. During the socialization period, it is important to avoid potentially scary or dangerous situations.
Steps You Can Take to Help Your Puppy During the Socialization Period Include:
- Making sure all training is fun and avoid any type of punishment
- Avoiding going to dog parks or large daycare places (wild, high energy dogs can scare younger puppies)
- Avoiding forcing your puppy to do something he is afraid of – instead go slow in these situations.
The average puppy may startle slightly when introduced to these new objects but will quickly overcome his fears; however if your puppy seems to be overly shy he may need extra socialization. In many cases shy puppy’s benefit from consistent socialization for the first year. When socializing a shy puppy you may need to go more slowly but you will need to expose him to more things. It is critical that you make sure all new experiences are fun and stress-free for your shy puppy.
Ideally the breeder or rescue will begin socializing the puppy before he goes to his new home, but this does not always happen. If you take your puppy home when he is 8 weeks old, you only have 4 weeks left of his prime socialization period. That means you must start socializing your new puppy immediately.
Unfortunately, many people do not start to socialize their puppy until they finish all of their vaccines, which generally does not occur until the puppy is 16 weeks old (or older). Once a puppy is past the socialization period, they may tend to startle and stay frightened new places or things. It is often much harder to help them overcome these fears and they may remain fearful even as an adult dog.
The most common reason people don’t socialize their puppy until they are finished with vaccines is because they are afraid that their puppy may get sick. However…
There Are Many Ways to Safely Socialize Your Puppy Before They Have Finished All of Their Vaccines:
- Have family and friends come to your house to play with your puppy
- Have you puppy play with healthy, friendly dogs that you know
- Enroll them in a puppy socialization class (be sure the class is held in a clean environment)
- Take your puppy to the vet for “fun” visits (have the staff give your puppy a treat)
- Take your puppy in the car when you run errands (be sure that the weather is appropriate- not too cold or too hot)
- Take your puppy to the homes of family and friends
- Introduce your puppy to novel objects in your home (vacuum, washer/dryer, broom, boxes, skate boards, bikes, etc.)
- Introduce your puppy to a variety of noises (alarms, banging pots/pans, blow dryers, buzzers, radio, TV, etc.)
One of the most common reasons that an adult dog may show signs of fear, anxiety and aggression is because they were not socialized well as a puppy. A well socialized puppy is key to having a well behaved, balanced dog.
Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as an handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West.
Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State. She is a Registered Veterinary Technician, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.
Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.
Shannon’s dog training philosophy revolves around force free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal.
Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes (Venturapetwellness.com). Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training (trulyforcefree.com).