The Worst Ways to Socialize your Puppy
When it comes time to socialize your puppy there are methods that are winners and methods that stink worse than that turd your pup made this morning. The worst methods set your dog up for having behavior issues later on in life and should be avoided unless you enjoy the thought of having to rehabilitate your dog as an adult.
Many behavior problems stem from how you socialize your puppy. This is what sets them up for life, and it’s critical to make sure you’re not making these common mistakes!
What even is socialization?
Socialization is safe, controlled, exposure and experiences to the world and life things, done in such a way that the puppy learns to behave neutrally around those things. No interaction desired or necessary!
This is important because you’re shaping how the pup views the world. Do they think people are scary and overwhelming? Or on the other hand do they think that every human ever is another play mate they MUST get to and greet? Will they think that dogs are way more fun than you? How will they act around vehicles, trains, livestock, or your vet?
All of this has to do with how you socialize your puppy. Under or over socialized puppies are at a disadvantage and once the socialization windows close they do not open again. Reactions, fears, and other behaviors become more engrained and difficult to change. They can very often lead to serious consequences like bites. Why not prevent that future?
Things to avoid when socializing your puppy
#1 - Everyone loves a puppy
When you get a new puppy and take them out into the world it’s like you’ve suddenly got a billboard of cuteness that attracts everyone to you. You will hear “Can I pet your puppy?!?!” regularly, and some of these people don’t even wait for your response before approaching. Their eyes stare your puppy down and they make a bee line with their grasping hand outstretched.
Let’s take a look at what the puppy is experiencing. Scenario #1 – They are overwhelmed by a total rando invading their space, and getting all handsy with them. The signs might be small and difficult to see. You might tell the person “oh he’s just a little shy” as they are insisting to touch him and he shrinks away a little. Your pup is doing all they can to get away, doesn’t get support from you, and then gives up and is uncomfortable with the whole interaction.
They have just learned that strangers are bringers of discomfort. This pattern is repeated over and over. Maybe you hope it will help with their shy attitude, but over time you begin to see that now your pup’s hackles raise when he sees a person approaching. He barks. He stands his ground and growls. His view of people is not positive.
Alternatively there is Scenario #2. Your puppy doesn’t think people are a threat. Instead, they’ve been greeted and given attention to so often by strangers that they think that’s the norm. EVERY person exists for them, and they get extremely excited about all of it. They simply can’t contain themselves. And when they’re prevented from meeting a person, they have a frantic meltdown. This can start off small, maybe your puppy pulls a little towards people. Maybe they jump on them when they get close enough. But then it grows with your puppy, until you’ve got a pulling, hyper, and overexcited mess that’s totally out of control at the end of your leash.
#2 - Doggy Daycare and Dog Parks
Proper socialization requires a controlled environment. If you’re adding dogs into the mix it must include appropriate temperaments in the other dogs as well. It takes only a SINGLE bad event to create lasting trauma in your puppy, and the odds of that happening go up exponentially without the right set ups for socialization.
Most doggy daycares are not run by dog trainers. The dogs usually outnumber the staff 10 to 1 and most places are a free for all when it comes to what the dogs are allowed to do. Non stop interactions with very limited human intervention, and no actual dog behavior professionals on hand.
Imagine leaving a child at a school like this. The staff intervenes when there is physical fights or other physical contact, but mostly they don’t care what the children do. There is hardly any separation into different age groups, older children and toddlers are all grouped together and given free range. There isn’t any teaching going on, just very general supervision. Your child comes home having proudly learned all the swears they could from little Billy, and has now decided there is a real need to spruce up your walls with crayon art.
Dog parks are even worse. For some dogs, the dog park is the only place they really get to run and blow off steam. So when they come to the dog park they are practically frothing and vibrating with excitement and intense energy. For others this is off leash time where they don’t have to listen to their owners.
Usually the size of dog parks make it very difficult for anyone to intervene in time if something is going on, and often the warning signs are completely missed because of the distances between owners and dogs. So you don’t get to give your pup the help they need when they need it, and there is a very large chance that they become overwhelmed or otherwise develop negative feelings about other dogs. When you’re socializing your puppy there is absolutely no place worse to do it, except maybe a fighting dog pit.
Just like before as well, the opposite can happen. Your dog loves all other dogs, just a bit too much. Inability to greet others turns into frustration, over exuberant play sparks fights. And when it comes time to come home,
If that’s not enough reason to avoid doggy daycares and dog parks when you socialize your puppy, there is another huge risk. Disease. Vaccinated dogs can still be carriers of deadly diseases, to which puppies, can still catch. All areas with high dog or wildlife traffic should be avoided for this reason too.
Here are the things I look for in places when I’m socializing puppies.
#3 - Not socializing at all
This is a huge issue for many puppies. The critical developmental window (the time you have to socialize your puppy) begins to close or is closed at 16 weeks of age. This means that when you get your puppy at 8 weeks, your clock is ticking and the end is swiftly approaching.
Not socializing your pup almost guarentees that they will have struggles later in life. Issues on walks, on having guests in the home, at going to the vet, being groomed, you name it. Fixing these issues is ALWAYS harder than preventing them and the end result is never as good as if we had prevented them in the first place. We’re having to find all the pieces and cobble them together, instead of molding the clay of a puppy into a confident dog.
Take a look at the beginnings of my socialization of my puppy Froot!