Socialization. The information I am presenting is not anything new. It’s not revolutionary or new, and it certainly isn’t anything I have discovered or created. However, with the new puppy I am doing a lot of socialization and figured I’d share.

We all hear we need to socialize our young puppy, but what exactly is socialization? Having everyone meet and pet your puppy? Taking your dogs to dog parks to meet other dogs? Taking your puppy to class? Getting your adult dog around new people and dogs? Would you be surprised if I said socialization is none of these? So what is socialization?

Socialization is the process of exposing and equipping puppies to everything they will see and do as adults. We are preparing confident, social, and polite puppies. The ability to live and act in any part of society. Yes, we do have people and other dogs interact with puppies but that is only ONE part of socialization.

Before we go any farther I want to address the issue of waiting until a puppy has had all of his shots to start exposure. Puppies have a very short window to expose them. This is the window of puppy care free days, they absorb everything and have little fears. This lasts up until about 12-16 weeks. There is no “socializing” adult dogs, only counter conditioning and training new behaviors. After the 16 weeks, new exposure will rely on previous exposure and genetics. Meaning if you did a good job beforehand with exposure you will have a confident puppy. If you did a poor job you may have a very nervous, insecure pup. However, depending on genetics you may get either confidence or fear from under or correct exposure. Some dogs never see the outside world until six months of age and still turn out just fine. Many police dog pups are raised this way. They have fearless genetics. Other pups get a good amount of correct socialization and exposure and still end up nervous. What’s at play here? Genetics. Some puppies genetics are wired for him to be anxious regardless of socialization, socialization can make the puppy better but may not “fix” the puppy. And some puppies are fearless regardless of socialization.

Back to my original point on waiting until all vaccinations are over. Vaccinations end at 16wks. Which means if you wait until a puppy has finished his vaccinations to expose him to the world, its too late. He may be safe health wise but now you have a slew of behavior and mental issues that are likely to occur. More dogs end up euthanized because of behavior issues that could have been prevented through proper socialization than die from disease as a puppy. Now I am absolutely NOT saying don’t vaccinate and don’t be careful where you take your puppy. I am saying to expose but thoughtfully. No dog parks, no parks full of other dog’s feces, most likely no pet stores. There are plenty of other pet friendly locations you can expose your young pup to. So I expose my pups and I don’t wait till they finish vaccinations. I won’t risk behavior issues because I improperly exposed them at a young age.

Socialization includes, more than anything, exposure. Exposure to different surfaces, noises, places, people, and dogs. We expose our dogs as puppies because as puppies they don’t know to be afraid. Positive exposure young carries over to adulthood later. Positive expereince with people, other dogs, new places help create a confident puppy.

So you are probably thinking, yes I already know that, that’s why I have everyone pet the puppy. He is getting exposed to new people. This is where mistakes are made. If you have a very outgoing puppy that seeks attention, certainly allowing many people to pet the puppy is fine. Even then I don’t allow everyone to pet my pup, he doesn’t need to be pet by a rough individual and learn to dislike strangers. Allow your pup to meet people if they are comfortable with it, have treats handy when they are comfortable, do not force if your pup would rather ignore people. The same goes with meeting other dogs. Choose very carefully which dogs you allow to play with your pup. Pushy dogs are not suitable for puppies. Dog parks are full of unbalanced dogs that teach poor behaviors. I use Narsil, and actually Ronan has been great also, when socializing new pups. These dogs play at the level of the pup, self handicap, don’t escalate, know when to take breaks, and are polite.

The final portion of exposure encompasses everything else. The world. Surfaces, buses, bikes, noises, hissing air, crowds, animals, buildings, climbing, crawling, exploring, etc. The list is massive but you need not expose to everything. The goal is enough exposure to as many different places, noises, surfaces, items, that your dog approaches new experiences in the future with confidence. A weird person in costume? No worries mom exposed me to Santa when I was young. Flapping tarp in the wind? No worries mom exposed me to umbrellas.

There is so much more information regarding socialization. I’ll write another post on the extra exposure and imprinting I do with young pups for police and service work. If you have any questions or want further information feel free to contact me.

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