Good puppy socialization requires a bit of creativity. Read on some suggestions for getting your new addition “out and about” in the real world.
Remember that when socializing your puppy, your goal should always be exposure without overwhelming him. We want your puppy to experience novel things without getting scared or feeling too uncomfortable.
When your puppy is very young (under 16 weeks of age) and has not yet received all of his immunizations, carry the puppy in locations where lots of dogs or wildlife are present to limit the (already slim) possibility of picking up a disease. These places include pet stores and wooded areas or trails.
Don’t worry about your arms getting tired — you should be taking frequent, short trips to new places when socializing your puppy. Five to ten minutes is plenty of time. It is unrealistic to expect a ten-week-old puppy to spend two hours at a child’s soccer game. Use common sense: if you wouldn’t take an infant to a certain place, don’t take your puppy there, either.
Safe places to bring young puppies include: friends’ homes, dog-friendly banks, and retail locations like home improvement stores and pet stores (in your arms or in a shopping cart).
Older Puppy Socialization
As your puppy gets older (over 16 weeks old), he can go to the same places he went before, but explore a bit more. Bring him to public parks (on leash – no dog parks!), outdoor shopping plazas, and farmer’s markets. Call ahead to see if your pup is welcome on family outings like apple picking, Christmas tree farms, or the pumpkin patch. Walk him around the corner from an elementary school in the morning as kids are walking to school.
Let him putter around and investigate the different objects at these places — signs and balloons at shopping plazas, cat towers and bird cages at pet stores, etc. Praise him for being brave and checking out new things. From time to time, encourage him back to you for a tasty treat, then send him back to investigating things. This lays the foundation for a great recall later!
Getting to Know You
When letting your puppy interact with other dogs, screen them carefully. They should appear well-behaved, clean, and not overly interested in greeting your puppy.
Look for dogs that show a casual interest in your pup. The dog’s tail should be relaxed and low, wagging slowly, and the dog should have a soft expression on its face — not worried or intensely staring. If you see a dog straining at the end of his leash, eyes wide, tail over his back, watching your puppy’s every move, DO NOT let that dog greet your puppy!
Do not force your puppy to interact with any dog, person, or object that it finds frightening. Let the puppy decide how close it wants to get. Allowing a shy or nervous puppy to observe things from a distance, and approach only when it is comfortable, will build confidence.
If your puppy is afraid of a person who would really like to get to know him, ask that person to sit on the ground at an angle to your pup (not directly facing him) and instruct them to ignore your pup. Let your puppy decide if he would like to investigate.
If you have a friend or family member with you that the puppy trusts, sometimes it is beneficial to have that person sit near the “scary” person or object. It can help inspire confidence.
When working on puppy socialization, remember to have fun and reward your puppy for good behavior when it happens. Watch for behaviors like sitting, going potty outside, loose leash walking, and making eye contact with you. These are behaviors we want your puppy to perform in the future.
If your pup seems particularly relaxed and comfortable in a new environment, go ahead and do a little training by practicing a behavior the pup knows pretty well — perhaps hand targeting or sitting. Have fun, and happy training!