What your dog learns as a young pup will stick with him for the rest of his life. According to Certified Dog Behavior Consultant Kathy Reilly, one of my go-to dog experts, the prime socialization period is typically between 6-14 weeks old. During this time, the synapses in the dog’s brain are growing a thousand fold. So it’s important to expose your dog to as many sights, sounds, and experiences as possible. Unfortunately, this is also a time that veterinarians tell us dog moms not to take our young puppies out in public because they haven’t finished their first round of vaccinations. So, until your dog is protected, you have to get creative! Here are some tips for new dog mommies looking for ways to socialize their puppy:
1) Let Your Dog Explore Your Home and Backyard
When you first bring your fur baby home, let him explore. And don’t rush this process. Let his paws walk on—and feel the difference between—carpet, tile, and hardwood floors. If you have a backyard that unfamiliar dogs don’t romp around in then let your unvaccinated pup experience the grass, dirt, and pavement. Let him sniff around. Watch him closely as he explores all of the new smells, sights, and sounds. You may be thinking to yourself, “How the heck does this help socialize my dog with people and other dogs?” But look at this as Step 1. Letting your puppy acclimate to different environments will help teach your puppy to easily adapt to new situations.
2) Gain Your Dog’s Trust
When you first bring a new puppy home, make sure to spend a lot of time with him. Play, nap, and do other things that will help you both bond. This will start teaching your pooch to trust!
3) Get Family and Friends Involved
If your puppy can’t go to the party then bring the party to your puppy. While you don’t want to overwhelm your little one, you still want to expose him to people of different ages, races, and genders while he’s still in that socialization period. Have one or two family members over for the afternoon to play with your new canine kid. When your dog is friendly and engages with new people, make sure to offer lots of praise and reward with a treat. Make it a real positive experience!
4) Schedule Doggy Play Dates
Along with getting your new puppy used to human adults, teens, and children, ask a friend to bring their dog over for a little playdate. Make sure you trust the other dog and he’s similar in size. While it’s common sense, I still want to note that if you just brought home a Chihuahua puppy, don’t invite a Great Dane to the at-home puppy party.
5) Go For Walks Around Your Community
When your vet says it’s safe to take your puppy out in public, start by walking him around your community or apartment complex. Get him familiar with the faces and environment that he will be exposed to on a regular basis. Stop to greet friendly neighbors and don’t forget to bring the treats along to reward your good puppy.
6) Go For Car Rides (And Take Him In Dog-Friendly Shops)
Again, the point is to get your dog used to seeing different people, animals, and scenarios, and feel comfortable while doing it. Expose your dog to people who are wearing hats and sunglasses. Let him see tall people and short people; heavy people and skinny people. So if you’re taking a quick trip to the store, either bring a friend or family member along so your dog can sit in the parking lot and people watch or take him inside dog-friendy shops.
7) Puppy Training Classes
Training classes are two-fold—they’re great for socialization and you get to work on basic training. If you haven’t read my 4 Essential Commands To Teach Your Puppy article, I share the biggest mistake I made with my Chihuahua—not teaching him the basic commands early enough. So find a well-rated training class and sign up!