Socialization is a pretty massive topic and there are definitely challenges when it comes to socializing a puppy. Not only are there a ton of misconceptions there is also the fact that the average owner usually isn’t even using the term socialization (as it refers to dogs) properly. What socialization is has been distorted from the original meaning for many people, and it’s not doing anyone any favors. Least of all our dogs.
The problem with this is that dogs who aren’t properly socialized, whether under socialized, over socialized, or just socialized incorrectly, they all will end up having issues of some sort. The issues could be minor, but in most cases they are not and cause significant stress to both owners and the dogs. No one should have to live in fear or with never-ending fears and anxieties.
It’s within our power to prevent this being our reality or our dog’s reality and that comes down to socialization.
How I approach socializing a puppy
Froot’s journey with me gave me pretty good insight to where he was developmentally. I was given a clear picture of what I wanted to focus on during his first week as well, and I knew that waiting just a little would serve me well in his case.
Today, Feb 21st, Froot is exactly 10 weeks old. He does not have all of his shots yet, but that is ok! I can still socialize him, and it’s actually recommended to do so in safe areas by AVSAB. Socialization doesn’t require you go to places that have a high likelihood of disease or illness for your pup. In fact you don’t even have to leave the safety of your vehicle to get socialization started!
My pre-socialization checklist:
- Do I know if my puppy has any fears or things that make him nervous?
- Does my puppy know his name? Does he respond to it well?
- Does my puppy trust me? How is our relationship developing?
- Does my puppy like playing with me and can he do so in more than just my house?
- Do I know what my puppy’s favorite treats are?
- Do I have a list of places that I can take him? What kind of dog/wildlife traffic is there in these areas?
- Do I have a back up plan in case he gets overwhelmed or afraid?
- Does my puppy get carsick or have issues with the car?
- Does my puppy have issues with being crated?
- Is my puppy healthy?
This basic list is what I use to not only give me some guidelines on where I might want to start socializing, but also makes sure that I’m not going to rush into anything before the pup is ready. After all, out in the world I’m my puppy’s lifeline and advocate. If there isn’t enough trust or a strong enough relationship, there can be pretty shitty complications. Your puppy has to know they can rely on you or else you have no way to support them through a challenging time.
Getting out of the house
Coincidentally, today was the first day that Froot was big enough to try to attempt the stairs in my garage. His legs were just long enough for him to be able to step down a stair without his belly scraping the stairs. For him this was a massive hurdle to overcome and he couldn’t have done it without our relationship and having trust built up with me. Physical challenges like this are a part of socializing a puppy, whether it’s new floor textures, shaky terrain, or other environmental puzzles. Puppies need a wide range of exposure to be able to grow into confident adults.
During this particular challenge I monitored him throughout, ready to help end the experience if he became overwhelmed or just couldn’t go on any longer. The whole process was up to him. He didn’t have to do it at all if he didn’t want to, and if that was the case, we would have just tried again later or the next day. There is no shame in coming back to a problem, and you have everything to gain by NOT forcing a puppy or dog to do something.
This is my focus and the tone of how I work on socializing a puppy. I am their protector and in charge of introducing them to the world in a fashion that is safe, not overwhelming, doesn’t make them overly stressed or fearful, and builds their confidence. This can’t be done with any sort of force involved, and there is a lot that can go wrong if things aren’t set up or planned for properly!