By Katie Spruill
From seven weeks to four months of age puppies go through what is called a critical or socialization period. Like children, puppies are sponges, taking in everything that they can, so they can determine what is safe and what isn’t. If you’re a puppy parent, the most important thing you can do for your puppy is to expose him to as many new things as possible in a positive way.
Some vets recommend that you wait to take your puppy to new places until they have received all their vaccines. However, the number of vets who advise this are declining. Socialization is like a behavioral vaccine. The more positive experiences your dog has with novel sights, sounds, objects, and places while they are young, the less likely they are to have behavioral problems in the future. If you are concerned with your puppy contracting a virus, here are a few tips to help keep your pup safe!
- Take your puppy to a pet store, a Hobby Lobby, a Lowes, or another pet friendly place and put them in a shopping cart to avoid touching the dirty floor. Pack Lysol wipes to clean off the shopping cart, or anything else they might touch or climb on.
- Avoid taking your puppy to dog parks or other areas with a lot of dogs and where shot records aren’t confirmed.
- Allow your puppy to meet familiar dogs who you are confident are up to date on their vaccines.
- If you are interested in taking your puppy to a facility for training or daycare, ask them about their cleaning procedures and ask for a tour of the facility.
- Invite your friends over. This is a great way to show puppies that good things happen when people enter the house!
- Take your pup for a car ride and go to a drive thru.
- Take your puppy for a walk in a stroller or carry them in a sling.
- Take your puppy to a park. If you aren’t comfortable letting them out of the car, you can build positive associations by giving your puppy treats every time someone new walks by.
- Play interesting sounds on your phone such as fireworks, children playing, or a firetruck. Start with low volumes and work up to louder sounds as they are comfortable.
- Try on different accessories in front of your puppy. It isn’t rare for adult dogs to grow to be fearful of things like people wearing sunglasses, puffy winter coats, or hats. The more they are exposed to these things and build good associations with them, the better.
- Bring out the holiday décor! Lots of dogs get spooked by Halloween decorations, fake Santa’s, and inflatable yard decorations
- The list goes on! You can be creative!
Puppy socialization is more than puppy play time and meeting new people on the street. In fact, the goal of socialization shouldn’t be quantity, but quality. Before taking your puppy somewhere new, ask yourself, how focused can you be on your puppy and will be able to control his interactions? Instead of taking your puppy to your son’s baseball game, where you will likely be distracted, try taking them to a friend’s house to watch your puppy while you enjoy the game. This is a good way to show your puppy that its okay to be away from home. If you desire to take your puppy to the baseball field in the future, plan a few short walks around the field away from the action. This helps you keep your attention on your puppy without being worried about him being overwhelmed by people or getting scared of loud cheering. Better yet, you can acclimate him by taking him to the field when no one is there. No matter what, make sure he gets lots of treats and has plenty of fun.
One of the biggest responsibilities we have as pet parents is to know what our dogs are trying to tell us. Dogs express themselves through body language, so it’s crucial that we sharpen our ability to read them and know when they are uncomfortable. This will prevent sticky situations in the future that could make them uncomfortable enough to run away, growl, or bite. Better yet, it will help your puppy become well rounded during this crucial time in their development.
Sometimes our puppies look bulletproof during the socialization period and it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you already have a confident and brave puppy. Most puppies start getting a little more apprehensive about novel things around six or seven months of age. Therefore, never take socialization for granted no matter the age of your puppy.