How and Why to Socialize Your Dog
The concept of socializing a dog is simple. It just means letting a dog learn how to be like a dog—but with proper manners. Just as humans have to learn how to live in a civilized society and understand what is accepted social behavior and what isn’t. Dogs who haven’t been well socialized often get scared or anxious when presented with new people or circumstances.
The best time to socialize a puppy is immediately after taking him home at seven or eight weeks of age, and continuing until he’s at least five months old. And that doesn’t just mean letting your puppy play with another dog. Socializing a puppy means exposing him to many different sounds, smells and sights. Puppies who are too sheltered can become fearful of any new experience, causing anxiety or even aggression.
Here are some ways to socialize your dog.
Introduce your dog to several people
Puppies should meet many people, both inside the home and out. Encourage your friends and family of all ages to pet, cuddle and play with the puppy, so he gets used to being handled by others.
Take away your puppy’s food
When your dog is eating, pick up his bowl and set it away for a minute, then give it back. Do the same thing with dog bones or treats. Play with his ears while he’s eating, or pat his back. Interacting with your dog during mealtime prevents resource guarding, which is when a dog growls or snaps in order to keep people away from his food.
Prevent your puppy from getting separation anxiety
Because dogs are born in packs, it’s not instinctual for them to be alone. But for dogs living in a human household, it’s not possible for them to always have someone around. Prevent your dog from getting anxious when you leave by crate training him, leaving him alone from time to time, and keeping arrivals and departures low-key.
Expose your puppy to lots of sounds
Dogs can tend to be fearful of loud noises. Expose your dog to sounds like trucks, telephone rings, kids yelling, car horns, etc. To do this, take your dog for walks, visit playgrounds, take him to the yard when the garbage truck comes and go on car rides together.
Use positive reinforcement
When your puppy displays a desired behavior, use positive reinforcement training by rewarding him with a high value treat. Dogs repeat behaviors when it benefits them (when they receive a reward). This will help your dog to understand rules and boundaries, while also helping you to earn his trust.
Puppies younger than five months old explore by mouthing or play biting. Redirect the behavior by offering a chew toy or chew stick instead.
Puppies who are exposed to people, other dogs and new situations will be less worried, anxious, fearful and aggressive and grow up to be healthier, happier dogs.