Last week we established that “socialization” is the process of learning how to properly function in a particular environment. This raises the question, “Won't dogs naturally learn what is 'normal' in a human household?” Well, yes and no. Your dog certainly could learn what is acceptable behavior at home and be comfortable with everything and everyone in the household without any effort on your part. But what about everything else? What about visitors, neighbors, neighborhood dogs, the vet office, the pet store, the park, vacations, etc. The list goes on and on. This brings us to another key concept about dogs: they don’t generalize very well.
Generalization is the process of applying a concept to a group. A puppy at home may learn that the humans she lives with or who visit regularly are friendly. That doesn’t mean the puppy will generalize that humans are friendly. Get it? This is why when it comes to proper socialization, nothing at home counts! Just because you have kids at home doesn’t mean your puppy will be comfortable with all kids. It takes planning and structure to introduce your puppy to the concept of coping with novelty.
So what is involved in a deliberate and thorough puppy socialization program? I’m so glad you asked. These are the key concepts that I recommend in a puppy socialization program:
This involves allowing your puppy to explore new and different surroundings in a safe manner. In my classes, this is the one that I find helps shy puppies the most. The process of physically and mentally exploring their world on their own terms helps them to gain confidence in their abilities while also decreasing their inherent fear of the new environment.
There are so many things that I want to share about this topic that I might have to do a separate blog post. For now, I will just say that I want you to think QUALITY over QUANTITY and to remember Laura’s mandate: “Humans don’t meet puppies. Puppies meet humans.” While someone may invite your puppy to say hello, it is up to your puppy whether or not to approach. The person should not approach your puppy.
This is a checklist of all the different people, animals, locations, sounds, substrates, weather….(I could go on ad nauseum) that you should introduce your puppy to before 16 weeks of age. Realistically, you are probably not going to get to them all, but it gives you a great starting point and some goals. Here are some sample checklists:
Dr. Sophia Yin’s Socialization Checklist
Chris Pul’s Socialization Checklist shared in Laura’s book
Pet Professional Guild Checklist
This is what most people think socialization refers to--puppies playing with other puppies and dogs. Just like children, puppies learn through play. Play time can teach your puppy how to properly communicate and read another dog’s body language. It can also help with that ever important bite inhibition (to control the strength of the bite).
While this aspect of socialization is important, it is last on my list. That is because a dog that does not get along with other dogs can lead a perfectly happy, healthy, and full life. Trust me. I know. That doesn't mean you should ignore this aspect of socialization. I’m just not prioritizing it as high as getting your puppy comfortable with strange humans. That is a lot harder to live with.
Now that you know what is involved, why not get some help? Look for a puppy class that is specifically designed for puppies in the critical socialization window.
Puppy Social at Canine Humane Network
Puppy Social is a 4-week class with rolling admission for puppies 8 to 16 weeks old. Sign up at any time. From socialization to potty training, this class covers everything you need to know about training your brand new puppy.
For more information about Puppy Socialization, check out these great resources: