You may have heard that if you socialize your puppy early, it will lead to a happy, confident and well behaved dog. The reason for this is the more positive experiences your young pup has with the world around them, the more confident they will be when they grow up.
Unfortunately for you and your pup, the timeframe that they are open to new experiences is short. It is believed that during the first three months, a puppy’s sociability outweighs their fears. After that puppies start to become fearful the unknown.
For this reason The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends that you begin to socialize your puppy starting after they have received their first round of vaccines, at around 7 to 8 weeks old but in a safe environment.
But if you have ever looked at one of those puppy socialization checklists, the task to socialize your puppy can feel overwhelming. To help you, I have composed 5 safe and easy ways to socialize your puppy.
5 Safe and Easy Ways to Socialize your Puppy
1. Join a Puppy Social
Puppy socials are a great, easy and safe way to expose your young puppy to other dogs, people and experiences. Many dog trainers will offer puppy socials for their clients. Unlike puppy kindergarten or dog training, puppy socials do not provide training. The main purpose of a puppy social is to give puppy owners a safe place to bring their puppy to play with other puppies.
In addition to providing a safe place for puppies to meet and play, a good puppy social should offer other experiences like obstacles to play on, toys to share and different surfaces to explore.
The puppy social should have enough trained staff to watch over the puppies and handle any issue that may arise. Puppies should be separated based on size and energy level to avoid injury.
Also there should be a requirement to provide proof of up-to-date vaccines and deworming before attending a social. If you find a puppy social that does not have this requirement, look elsewhere.
What to Look For in a Puppy Social:
- Requires proof of up-to-date vaccines and deworming
- Located in a clean environment, with safety features and an easy to clean floor
- Separates puppies by size and energy levels
- Has adequate trained supervision
To learn more about what to expect at a Puppy Socialization class and to read about our own experience taking our puppy to a class go to Puppy Social- What to expect
2. Setup a Puppy Play Date
If you are unable to go to a puppy social you can create your own. Invite a couple of friends and their pups for an hour of free play in a fenced in backyard. All puppies should be healthy and up-to-date with their vaccines and deworming.
Tip: Do not meet at a dog park. Dog parks hold many dangers for young puppies. To learn more about the dangers of dog parks and how you can protect your dog read: Dog Park Concerns and Tips on How to Protect your Dog
Make sure all the dogs have a good temperament and are none aggressive. Larger dogs may view smaller puppies as prey so you should try to invite the same sized dogs to the party. Also try to keep the dog’s ages close. An older dog probably would not like a bunch of young puppies running around and jumping on them.
If you don’t have access to a safe, fenced-in backyard, an unfinished basement can work. Remember to take a water break and then a bathroom break halfway through the time allotted to limit the potential accidents.
All dog owners should stay for the romp to make sure their pup behaves. Any aggressive dogs should be removed from the area.
To break up the excitement and to give the puppies a chance to rest you can sprinkle plain cheerios around for them to find. This should not be done around any dog that has shown food aggression.
3. Go For a Ride
Whether it is a trip to the vet or a family vacation unless you live in a city (and never leave) most dogs will need to get used to going for a car ride. Despite the many pictures of happy dogs with their heads sticking out the window of a moving car, enjoying a car ride is a learned reaction. It is also one of the safer socialization activities you can expose your young pup too, as long as you don’t take them out of the car.
Because many puppies can experience motion sickness, it is best to start taking short trips and built up to longer ones. It is also important to make the trips fun. If the only time they go for a ride is to go to the vet to be poked they will associate a ride in the car with pain and discomfort.
To make the trip more enjoyable have someone sit with the puppy so they don’t feel isolated. The puppy should be secured in the middle seat with either a car restraint or a carrier for their safety and yours. Give your puppy a favorite toy that they only get on car rides to take their mind off of the motion of the car. You can also play soothing music. But don’t coddle your puppy. A trip in the car should be viewed as no big deal.
A Word on Motion Sickness
As I mentioned before puppies are prone to motion sickness, but according to the VCA “Many puppies will “outgrow” motion sickness by the time they’re about 1 year old.” To reduce the risk of motion sickness you should:
- Wait several hours after eating before going for a ride.
- Secure the puppy in the middle of the car where they can look forward
- Take short trips and gradually move up to longer ones
- Keep the car cool
- Open the windows to reduce the pressure on your pup’s ears
When you are able to move up to longer rides remember to bring water and stop often if they are prone to get sick.
4. Have a Meet and Greet
Having a meet and greet in your home is a great way for your puppy to meet a variety of people in a safe environment. Setting up times for people to come over and meet your new puppy is an easy way to socialize them.
When we brought Bella home it didn’t take long for the neighborhood kids to start coming over to meet our new puppy. We limited their visits to one at a time and no longer than a ½ hour at a time. This allowed Bella to meet children of all different ages, looks and personalities in the comfort of her own home.
We also invited our adult neighbors and our extended family members to come visit our newest addition. When people came over we asked that they remove their shoes and wash their hands before going near her to reduce the risk of Bella picking up a disease from the outside. As with the kids, we only allowed one or two adults to meet her at a time. Too many people can overwhelm a young puppy.
In addition to the in house meet and greets we would carry Bella out with us each morning to wait for the school bus to come. The kids loved the opportunity to pet her soft fur and get puppy kisses.
5. Puppy Kindergarten
Puppy kindergarten is more than just a dog training class for puppies. A good puppy kindergarten will provide time for puppies to mingle and play together. Plus experienced trainers will further your pup’s socialization by introducing them to new experiences through role playing.
For more information on Puppy Socialization: