Written by: Kassie Dickson, CDBC, CPDT-KA
What Is Puppy Socialization?
Puppies need to socialize and now, we don’t mean sharing jokes over the water dish at the dog park. Your pup needs to perform the act of socialization, have interactive experiences, and learn about not just their environment, but also social appropriateness. Positive interactions and much more!
Socializing itself is just the act of hanging out with your buds. So often many training facilities will offer puppy social classes that give them the opportunity to do both during that critical socialization window! If you have a chance to join one of these classes, it can be a great learning experience for your pup.
What To Do If My Puppy Is Scared, Overwhelmed, Or Even Over Aroused During Socialization?
When your puppy’s socializing, they’re learning so much and we can definitely help them through that process. Many interactions can often be left alone and monitored, but if there’s excessive fear, bullying, over-arousal or conflict from any pups involved, it’s good to break that up and redirect them on to something better!
I often recommend breaking up puppy play and giving the pups involved a quick break. This is a great way to find out if all parties are consenting and enjoying the play! When you release the pups again and they go right back to playing, you know they are having fun! If you release them and one pup disengages or avoids, it’s likely that they aren’t enjoying themselves.
If that’s the case, redirect the pup that’s being too rowdy and reward them while making sure the pup who’s uncomfortable is also rewarded for speaking up for themselves. By us breaking up the play or redirecting the other dog, it teaches the rowdy pup to listen. The other pup is rewarded to teach them that communicating their discomfort is also rewarding! It’s a win win!
If you ever have pups playing and it seems too much or one is hiding etc. give this breaking up and rewarding method a shot. It’s also good to remember that most pups can benefit from socialization at a distance and learning that they don’t need to meet every other dog they come across.
Practice rewarding your puppy, for ignoring other pups and dogs on walks and even disengaging from other pups by looking away, ignoring them at a distance! We want to keep all social interactions as positive as possible, this helps your dog learn to cope and act appropriately in social situations later in life.
It also teaches them to respond more appropriately when they are uncomfortable. Remember, if your dog displays fear when socializing, start smaller. Reward them a ton and help them when you sense any discomfort.
How Do You Socialize a Puppy With a Human?
When socializing your puppy with new humans, it’s important to follow similar steps from above. If you teach your puppy that people mean good things, they will be very well rounded. The first game you can play when meeting new people is tricks for treats, where your puppy exchanges their known tricks for treats from the new people.
Another one you can try is sit for pats, where your puppy must offer appropriate, calm behaviour like sitting in order to receive pats. If they get up, we stop petting until they offer a sit again. If your pup struggles with excitement and jumps up on people this can be stand for pats!
If you have a more shy pup, listen to their signals, if they’re uncomfortable don’t force interaction or even offer treats from a new person's hand, try tossing them on the ground instead. Ensure people approach your pup appropriately. A great way to greet is to turn your body to the side and even crouch down.
Don’t greet a pup or any dog by sticking your hand out towards them, despite popular belief this can be extremely scary for any dog, have people allow your pup to approach them and choose to interact!
The same way you don’t want to hug every stranger you meet, pups don’t want to be pet by every new person either! Offer choice and advocate for your dog!
Puppy Socialization Checklist
Normally you’ll find a check list of all the scary things your pup should meet or be introduced to at a young age… this can almost seem like a full time job!
SO instead we’re going to give a short list that is easily attainable and FUN for both you and your pup!
Anywhere you want to take your dog - camping, pitch a tent in the living room, corner store, take them a few times and practice good behaviour outside. Park, take them regularly at different times of day, Family gathering, do it!
People - this includes anyone you normally see. If you live in the city, people at bus stops, skate parks, joggers, cyclists; go on regular, short, successful walks! Keep them SHORT and fun. Treats for new people they walk past and ignore, treats for dogs they pass, treats and play when they choose you over the environment. People in different scenarios such as coming to your house, walking past, getting off the bus or out of cars, you name it. Reward your dog for seeing it!
Items - Both in the house and out, cars, bikes, boats, brooms, vacuums, power tools. Anything you would have your pup around that might be loud, scary or new.
Experiences - Like to kayak? Show them the ropes early, even if it’s cold outside show them indoors! Want to hike, start small and work your way up, car rides, do them! Groomer needed? Practice at home! Vet visits, visit your vet for more than just wellness checks! Visit to book your appointment in person instead of over the phone, make it fun.
Dogs - Here’s where distance socialization is key, teach your pup that they don’t get to meet every dog they see, reward them for ignoring dogs, say hi to some, play at the park with others. Get them used to all scenarios where they may see other dogs, a group class is a great way to do this! Do this for any animal you may meet.
At Home - crate and confinement, walks, beds, baby gates, independence. Slowly and positively introduce your dogs to things in your home. This includes leaving them alone! Start small and work your way up.
The biggest thing to remember is the more environments and things your dog is introduced to, the more success you set them up for in the long run! Don’t expect your puppy to understand or perform, if you haven't shown them the way, or in that situation. Remember generalization takes time and effort!
To help your dog through more tough emotional responses they may have when getting acquainted with new stimuli, check out Desensitizing Your Dog.