Socialize is a verb that means to make social or to make fit for life in companionship with others (Dictionary.com). Synonyms of socialize are to entertain, or to mingle. When I think of the word socialize in these terms, I see the need to make socializing a dog a priority early in life. I certainly want my dog to be fit for life in companionship! I want her to be able to mingle with other humans and other animals.
Socialization is best taught in the early stages of puppyhood, when a young dog is learning all the other important behaviors such as potty training and leash-walking, and can often be taught synonymously. Check out our list below for some tips on how to make socialization a success for your ball of fluff.
Attend puppy kindergarten classes
Even though my parent’s golden was just a C student in her puppy classes (they claimed she was TOO social--is that even a thing?), she still learned valuable lessons like how to get along with other dogs and people. Puppy Kindergarten classes should cover socialization, house training tips, basic obedience, and general communication with your dog, and be taught by a licensed dog trainer. Working on socialization in a class setting is best because it allows you to introduce your dog to new dog friends, people, and situations, under the supervision of a trainer.
Early exposure is ideal
Begin teaching leash-walking skills early in your puppy’s life, and take him for frequent walks to expose him to the sights and sounds of the great outdoors. Kids, neighbors, wild animals, other dogs, construction trucks, and garbage trucks are all potential stressors for your dog. It is important to help your puppy develop a tolerance and acceptance to these new and interesting stimuli early in life.
Take him with you to the hardware store, to the park, to the mailbox. Basically take him along anywhere a dog is welcome and there are potential “strangers” to your pup. Every interaction is an opportunity to get comfortable around people he doesn’t know.
Go on a “sound” adventure around your house
Run the blender, turn on the vacuum, use the garbage disposal. Expose to him to every sound you can think of so that he is not surprised when he hears those sounds again. Be sure to reassure him that the sounds are normal, but not to coddle, and to discourage barking.
Allow him to experience the seasons
Take him out in the rain, snow, and wind, and allow him to play! He won’t melt (and neither will you) and it can be a welcome change from the stuffy inside during the months when cabin fever sets in.
Don’t coddle your puppy
Just as you wouldn’t rush to comfort a child with a skinned knee (gotta toughen him up somehow), don’t fawn over your dog when he shrinks away from the garbage truck. Reassure him it is ok, and then move on. Like Jacque Lynn Schultz says in the Petfinder’s post Socializing Young Puppies, “The coddled canine grows up to fear anything out of the ordinary.” And as dog parents, we certainly do not want that!
Starting out on the right paw
So, go ahead and sign up for Puppy Kindergarten! Or make it a point to have your puppy along as your sidekick for a few months until he gets the hang of new people, animals, and experiences. As your dog grows in size and maturity, you’ll be glad you did! Before doing too much adventuring, be sure to enroll your puppy in pet insurance. Even the most careful owner may find that their puppy has gotten into trouble while working on socialization skills and you don't want to feel the worry that comes along with unexpected veterinary bills!