What is 'Socialization'?
Between 6 weeks and 4 months old your puppy will make impressions of the world that will last their whole lives. Their brain size actually increases up to 10x during this time period as they learn about the environment they are in, the people and things in it, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. This is the most crucial time for setting up the building blocks of learning. They learn where their place is in the world, their new family, how to communicate with members of their own species and their human family. The process is called socialization.
Socializing your puppy is VERY IMPORTANT
By introducing your puppy at this age to as many things as you can that they will experience for the rest of their lives, you can dramatically decrease the likelihood of behavioral problems like agression or anxiety, as they grow up. Some studies have shown that the majoirty of dogs that end up euthanized in shelters are because of behavioral problems like fear agression, and this can be down to not having been socialized during this critical time period. You also don’t want them to live in a permanent state of anxiety if they haven’t come across things before.
You may also hear the term habituation in describing this time period and they are very similar.
Socialization is introducing them to their environment to teach them what is positive and how to behave appropriately. Habituation is where they learn to ignore everyday stiumluls’ like vacuum cleaners etc.
What do you need to socialize your puppy to?
The following is a general list of things to consider when socializing your puppy. Of course cater this to your home life and the environment your dog will be in.
100 different people
Wet or frosty grass
Water- hose, bath, shower
How do you socialize your puppy?
Socializating your puppy might sound a little challenging, especially with a puppy that has not had all of their vaaccinations yet. These puppies should not be put down on the ground where other dogs have been, so you may need to carry them in your arms when exploring the outside world.
New people: The general consensus amongst specialists isthat you should introduce your pupy to over 100 new people during this time. People of different heights, genders, ages, ethnicities, wearing big hats, big clothes, high visitbility jackets, and more. Each person creates a different silohette for your dog so by introfucing them positively to as many different looks as possible, this will set them up to be a confident people greeter.
If your puppy seems hesitant, you can greet someone enthusiastically to help them see there is nothing to worry about! You can ask the person to throw treats at your puppy, or have their arms extended with the treats in thier hands. If your puppy seems unsure to approach, try having the people sit on the floor to make them appear smaller. Let the puppy go to them on their own accord and at their own pace.
Other dogs and different species: A friends dog is a good place to start as you know they have been fully vaccinated and know if they are friendly or not. Encourage play but step in if it get's too rough. For other species of animas you can have your puppy behnd behind a baby gate so they can see and smel them, don’t let the puppy play chase, and praise calm behaviour.
Sounds: Obviously it is hard to come by fireworks at certain times of the year so you can find recordings on YouTube and play them low during meal times to create a positive association to the sound! Here is a good one but it is very important to start off playing it very low and turn it up gradually over time, keeping a close eye on your dog's reaction. A lot of good breeders will have played these sounds at a low level during the first 6 week of the puppies life.
Surfaces: Metal surfaces are good to get them used to as vet tables are usually metal so this will help future vet visits! I have also seen a lot of herding dogs have a hard time with shiny wood floors. Open staircases can be a problem as we humans can rationalize that we won’t fall through, dogs can’t! Also, getting them used to grass with different feelings means they will balk less at the idea of using the bathroom at different times of the year. Use lots of treats, toys and praise to encourage them to experience these different surfaces and textures.
Unfortunately, during this same critical socialization time frame, puppies also go through something called a fear period. Basically this is where they learn what there is to be fearful about in the world. Any negative experience that happens during this time can have a lasting impression on the rest of their lives.
So how do you socialize your puppy to everything they need to be exposed to without also exposing them to things that can have such a negative impact?
It is a balancing act that’s for sure. You have to be able to read your puppy's body language to gage how they are feeling about what is happening in front of them. If possible, try to turn something they are unsure of, into something fun and positive. Use lots of treats and praise. Resist the urge to fawn over them if they are looking unsure. Think about when a toddler falls over...they look to their parents for a reaction. If you can say “whoops, come on” and act like it is no big deal, they usually just get up like nothing has happened. If the parent goes running over fawning over the child, then the toddler usually bursts into tears; the parent has made it into something to be scared of. This is very similar with puppies. Talk to them in a happy voice to show them you feel happy and confident about what is happening. You may feel silly being like “woooohooo a car, that's so exciting”, but the tone you use helps immensley.
Let them explore the situation on their own time. Give them the opportunity to use their own brain and senses. Watch their body language. A tail that is tucked all the way under them, ears flat back, an yawning are signs of stress and feel okay with confidently removing your puppy from that environment.
What should you do now?
Here at Bone Ball Bark we work on socializing all of our puppy clients on a daily basis. You can set up a virtual training session to discuss with a trainer how best to socialize your own individual puppy, or if you live in London, set up a puppy consultation to work in person with a Bone Ball Bark trainer.