What does a puppy have in common with a sponge? During the first few months of puppyhood, puppies, just like sponges, soak up impressions about the world surrounding them. It's crucial, therefore, for these very first life experiences to be positive and varied since they will leave an everlasting impression on your pup. Don't wait too long, though; this small window of opportunity for socialization in puppies is very brief.
Ideal Socialization Timeframe
The peak period for proper socialization in puppies occurs between the ages of 3 and 12 weeks old, according to the ASPCA. It's during this time that puppies learn to be comfortable around a variety of stimuli, including different types of people, environments, sights, sounds, smells, animals and other dogs. This process ideally starts when the dog is in the care of the breeder and continues when he reaches his new home. It's both a breeder's and dog owner's responsibility to ensure the puppy is properly socialized.
It's never too late to socialize your puppy. If you got your puppy at 10 weeks or older and the puppy wasn't properly socialized before then, you will need to pull up your sleeves and do some remedial work. A great place to catch up in terms of socialization and confidence-building is a puppy class. In a puppy class you and your pup will be placed under the guidance of a professional dog trainer in a non-threatening, controlled setting so you can catch potential problems early on and address them properly.
Avoid Rushing Through the Process
Catching up in terms of socialization, however, does not mean you will need to hurry through the process and overdo it. You must provide your puppy with a multitude of opportunities to encounter the world, but at the same time avoid forcing him into situations he is not ready to cope with. Make sure your puppy explores the world at his own speed without overwhelming him. Learn how to recognize subtle signs of stress and carefully monitor your puppy's progress.
Because you cannot turn the clock backwards, you must continue working on socialization even outside of puppy classes. This entails working on confidence-building exercises around strangers and other unfamiliar stimuli. Don't waste your puppy's food by just filling the food bowl and giving it to him; rather, use it help him become confident around people, suggests Dog Star Daily. For instance, in the next few months have friends hand-feed your puppy and then you can upgrade to having strangers do the same thing.
By Adrienne Farricelli
Dog Star Daily: Puppy Classes
Dog Star Daily: Can Too Much Socialization Ruin a Puppy?
APSCA: Socializing Your Puppy
Dog Start Daily: After You Get Your Puppy
American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation: Building Confidence in Puppies
About the Author
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.