Between three weeks and sixteen weeks of age, puppies go through a “critical socialization period”. For just about three months at the beginning of their lives, puppies are sponges, soaking up information about the world as fast as it is presented to them.
When you’re a puppy parent, your number one most important job is socialization, and it’s critical to start socializing your pup. Remember, by the time they come home with you, your sponge window has shrunk to less than two months!
People, places, and things
Most people interpret socialization to mean teaching a dog good interactions with other dogs or humans. While these things are essential to nurturing a well-adjusted dog, socialization really means introducing your puppy in a safe and positive way to all of the possible sights and sounds that will be part of their world.
Socialization really means introducing your puppy in a safe and positive way to their world.
For city dwellers (or anyone anticipating regular visits to a city during the 12+ years of their dogs life), this may include socialization to busy streets and car noise, loud buses and skateboarders.
For travelers, car rides (and a crate), bodies of water and escalators are important.
For families living in more rural environments, farm animals and loud machinery may make the cut.
And don’t forget children of all ages, disabled people whose canes or wheelchairs can form a frightening picture, and men—particularly those wearing hats, hoods, or sunglasses.
The key is not to overwhelm your puppy upon first introduction.
It’s natural for a puppy to be frightened the first time they experience something new. They may show this fear by shaking, whining, tucking their tail, yawning, lip licking, or trying to hide or run away.
Be sure to keep the experience as pleasant as possible by talking your dog through it and rewarding them with tiny tidbits of delicious food.
If your dog is concerned, move farther away from the object of socialization or to a less intense version of it. For example, try a less busy street if a main drag is too noisy for your pup on your first socialization period.
If your puppy isn’t fully vaccinated yet, you can still go out and about. Socialization to most things does not require your pup to put his feet on the ground. Most puppies can be easily carried in a bag or simply in your arms.
In public places, your puppy can join you as long as you put a blanket or towel on the ground first. Keep puppy on leash so they don’t go beyond the boundaries of the blanket.
The puppy social
The other socialization must for puppies is the “puppy social”. Puppy socials are designed for puppies to learn how to interact with other dogs in a safe environment.
Because all puppies are at the same vaccination levels, most puppy socials allow pups to play right after their 2nd round of shots (typically around 10 to 12 weeks of age).
At a social, your pup will learn, well, social skills! If you have the luxury of choosing between different puppy social options, you should always pick one that is run by a certified dog trainer who can help your puppy to build healthy play skills, protect them from negative experiences, and teach you how to do the same.
Supervision is a must
At one puppy social I helped supervise, two tiny creatures got into a major scuffle and when we were finally able to separate them, one pup was covered in blood. We dog trainers jumped into action, one of us soothing the hurt pup and attempting to turn the experience from negative to positive while checking over the wounds and the other immediately instructing the other dog guardians to gather their pups and redirect their fear into positive training behaviors.
Meanwhile, we waited for the okay on the hurt pup and the removal of the aggressor. This type of experience is rare with puppies, but it can happen. I shudder to think how the experience would have impacted the attacked pup if qualified dog trainers hadn’t been there.
Your puppy can also interact with the adult dogs of friends and family members as long as you know they are fully vaccinated.
Always supervise interactions with dogs of any kind and, if the adult becomes annoyed or overpowers puppy too much, give them a break.
The bottom line
Your puppy relies on you to introduce to the world.
With lots of love and patience, you’ll help your puppy learn that the world is a great place to be a dog!