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As a novice pet owner, you may be learning new things right along with your dog. You may just assume that dogs know how to interact with people other than you or your family. You may think dogs instinctively know how to play games like fetch or how to sit on command.
It has been said that dogs are much like children—we have to teach them how to act and what is considered socially acceptable as well as what isn’t acceptable behavior. We have to train them regarding potty training, learning how to happily stay in his dog crate, and we have to teach them how to interact with the world around them. This is what we consider to be “socialization”, a major part of dog training.
What is Socialization?
Socialization is not just teaching your dog appropriate behavior around other dogs and other people outside the family. It is teaching them how to accept grooming and/or bathing. It is teaching them to accept having their nails clipped. It is teaching them how to behave around noisy traffic. It is teaching them how to behave around things in their environment that can be scary. It is teaching them how to handle new situations correctly.
Why Should I Socialize My Puppy?
Socialization is much easier for puppies than adult dogs; however, you can socialize a foster or an adopted dog too. The process of socialization for older dogs takes a little more time and patience, as you may have to work to eliminate negative behavior that might have been learned before you took in the adult dog. In some cases the help of a professional trainer is needed when training an adult dog. We’ll talk about socialization for older dogs momentarily.
If you properly socialize your puppy, you are helping him to have an overall better life. Just as we humans have surprises and other “scary” situations we must depend upon our own social training to navigate, if we properly train our dogs how to act in their environment, they will work through new situations much more easily than not.
You can begin socializing your puppy almost immediately when you bring him home from the breeder. Start slowly, and stay consistent. In fact, most experts recommend that socialization takes place between seven weeks and four months of age. By the end of your puppy’s first year, he will be a happy and well-socialized young dog!
How Can I Socialize My Puppy at Such a Young Age?
Teaching your dog her daily routine is a big part of socialization! Begin by using touch to socialize your puppy.
It’s easy to cuddle your new puppy, and she likely enjoys the snuggles, too! However, you probably don’t give much thought to stroking her ears or rubbing her paws. You might be surprised to learn that these are important parts of the socialization process. How? You’ll be taking the puppy to the vet every six months of her life. She needs to be able to let the vet touch her ears without feeling uncomfortable. Plus, when you clean your dog’s ears periodically, she needs to be comfortable with the process and not flinch. Just rubbing her ears can help with this, and it’s an important part of socialization.
Rubbing and handling your puppy’s feet is also an important part of socialization. In fact, you need to rub your dog’s feet often so that future grooming takes place with ease.
I’m willing to bet that simply rubbing your pet, particularly on their ears and feet, does not strike you as socialization, but it most definitely is! This is often one of the first steps of socialization, and you can do this as early as seven weeks of age.
How Else Do I Socialize My Puppy for Future Grooming or Handling?
Many experts will suggest brushing your puppy and rubbing your puppy’s ears and feet at seven weeks. You can purchase some brushes that make your dog feel as if you’re giving him a massage (one with rubber nubs that will get Fido used to the idea of being brushed without irritating his tender puppy skin). When you brush your pup, speak in soothing tones, and be prepared for her to possibly recoil or try to get away from you at first. Remember, puppies love affection, but small puppies haven’t bonded to their humans just yet. You want brushing and cuddle time to be a positive experience so that they later accept grooming time as a part of life—and a pleasurable one at that!
You need to introduce the toothbrush to your puppy as well. Let him smell and even chew on the brush at first. Again, speak soothingly, and be patient. Don’t set a goal of brushing his teeth the first time you introduce the activity.
Although you want to introduce the nail clippers to your dog, you might hesitate to clip your puppy’s nails the first time you pull out the clippers. Special care should be taken to introduce a dog nail grinder to your pup if you don’t intend to clip his nails with clippers. At first, you want to simply turn the grinder on and let him hear the noise the grinder makes. At this time, observe your puppy. If he appears nervous, do not put the grinder anywhere near his body. If he accepts the noise and seems curious, then take the grinder and run the body of the machine across his back. If he accepts these interactions, then you can work up to grinding his nails soon.
The key to socializing your dog to grooming is to take it slow. Rub his ears, back, and feet every day as you speak calmly. When your dog becomes comfortable with your touch, you can introduce some of the grooming tools. Brush him with a rubber-nubbed brush that works to relax him more than groom him. Introduce an electric tool by turning them on and letting Fido get used to the noise. It is key he understands that these noisy items will not cause him any harm. If Fido seems to accept the noise of these grinders and clippers, then you can slowly begin to run the clipper or nail grinder over your dog’s body. That way, he learns that these noisy tools are not meant to cause him pain. Finally, you can work up to actually using the nail grinder or hair clipper on your puppy .
How Do I Socialize My Puppy with Other People and Animals?
This is a fairly easy thing to do, depending upon your dog’s personality. Enlist fellow dog lovers to visit with and play with your new puppy. It is important that your dog learns how to meet people outside of your immediate family—the people she is with every day.
Now, let’s say something about certain breeds that are known to be “one-person” dogs. Breeds such as the Dachshund, the Chihuahua, and the Akita are known for being loyal to one particular person in the family . You’ll need to work a little harder to get these breeds properly socialized to interacting with others, both inside the family and outside as well. You may need to take them around new people on a regular basis in order to do this.
Socializing your puppy to new animals might be easy if you already have a cat, other dogs, or other pets in your home. The puppy will naturally “grow up” with these animals, and he’ll accept them as a part of his pack. However, if the puppy is the sole pet in your home, you’ll want to enlist friends with other types of pets and other dogs to help you in this part of socialization. Have your friends bring the pets over, and make a few trips to your friends’ homes so that Fido understands how to interact with other animals both on his own turf and in places outside the home.
It is also highly important to socialize your dog with children. This should take place once the puppy is a little older. In a perfect environment, you’ll enlist little ones who have spent time around animals to do this. However, that may not be an option! If not, then visit with a friend who has children that can play and demonstrate typical “kid” behavior (running around, gleefully loud) so that Fido can get used to that. Always supervise a child handling your dog! Keep in mind that smaller dogs and small, inexperienced children are not a good mix. IT’s always a good idea to know how to keep children safe from dogs.
Pro Tip: It won’t hurt to introduce your puppy to not only cats and other dogs, but pet birds, livestock (this is imperative if you live in a rural area!), and even chickens.
What are Some Other Situations Which I Should Present to My Dog as a Part of the Socialization Process?
You want to introduce your puppy to the world around him. If you live in a metropolitan area, then you’ll want to get him used to traffic, the noise of city life, and such. If you live in a suburb or out in the country, then you’ll still want your dog to understand how to act around cars and other vehicles. This type of socialization, however, is probably best tackled once your puppy has received all his immunizations, around three months.
At this point, he has hopefully been on a dog leash and you’ve gotten him somewhat used to walking with you. If not, you may need to do this before embarking on socializing with him in noisy environments. You may also want to start small (the younger the puppy, the better this idea). You can take your puppy to the local park while kids are playing so they can become socialized to boisterous human noise. You can also take your dog to outdoor markets where people are milling around. Eventually, you’ll want to expose your dog to noisy streets and the sound of vehicles. Watch him for signs of nervousness and carry on the same way you did when introducing the loud grinder—speak soothingly and let your dog know he is safe.
You might even want to introduce your puppy to various floor surfaces! This could prevent later slips and falls.
1. How long does it take to socialize a dog?
Much of that depends upon the puppy himself. Very companionable dogs such as the Labrador Retriever, take clues from their “human,” and they can be socialized very quickly. However, on average, the socialization of a dog takes the better part of a year. It is also possible to have to reinforce socialization throughout a dog’s life. Adult dogs that may have come from a foster or shelter may need extra time to become properly socialized. In cases like this, others may require the help of a certified dog trainer.
2. What happens if you don’t socialize with your dog?
This could set up the potential for negative behavior. A dog not socialized to children could bite a friend’s child (or your own child). A dog that is not socialized to other animals may have a hard time accepting new pets years down the road. Pet parents that don’t properly socialize their dogs may see a lack of quality in the life of an unsocialized dog.
3. How can I get my dog to be friendly with other dogs?
This is almost like setting up a play date for children. Introduce your puppy to other dogs (make sure they are well-behaved and accepting of puppies). Let them play together. Dogs have a “pecking order” just like other animals, and they’ll teach each other how to interact.
4. How do I socialize with my dog in public?
Simply take your dog out for walks. Take him to the dog park and let him meet other pups. Let him play with the children. Just be sure to do this while you supervise.