**Guest post from Matt S.**
Puppy Socialization is an often discussed, but an all-too-often misunderstood topic. No other single thing is as important to ensuring that your new bundle of joy will turn into a well-adjusted family member. What is puppy socialization, you ask? Puppy socialization is the concerted effort to expose your puppy to as many different people, environments, situations and experiences, all while controlling the process in order to ensure the safety of the puppy and prevent unnecessary fright.
Ideally, you will be bringing your new puppy home at 8 weeks of age. It is important that puppies not be taken away from their littermates before 7 weeks of age, and most reputable breeders will not release their puppies until 8 weeks of age. This gives you approximately one month to ensure your puppy is well socialized. While socialization continues to be important past 12 weeks of age, the time frame from 8 to 12 weeks is the most critical. Miss those precious weeks, and you risk never again being able to lay the crucial groundwork necessary for proper socialization.
Before you begin taking your puppy out to meet the world, please make sure you puppy has been started on his puppy vaccinations. The more places you take your puppy, the higher the chance that he could be exposed to a potentially harmful virus. Vaccinate your puppy according the recommended vaccination schedule of veterinarians in your area.
Dr. Ian Dunbar, a noted animal behaviorist, veterinarian, and author has a simple rule of thumb that can be extremely effective. He recommends introducing your puppy to “100 people by 12 weeks” of age. While this certainly takes a bit of dedication to accomplish, the efforts will be heartily rewarded. In carrying out this mission, not only will your puppy be exposed to many new friends, in all likelihood, he will be exposed to myriad of experiences and situations. The things he will be exposed to include, but are not limited to: linoleum floors, reflective windows, automatic doors, stairs, vehicles, bicycles, children, lawnmowers, other dogs and more. If a puppy isn’t introduced to these things prior to 12 weeks of age, their natural response will likely be that of fear rather than happy curiosity. The positive introduction will have life-long benefits.
If you have Puppy Kindergarten classes available in your area, make enrolling in them a high priority. This will introduce your puppy to many other puppies in a safe, controlled environment. The classes will lay a foundation for your puppy to develop positive dog-to-dog behavior traits. If there aren’t any Puppy Kindergarten classes in your area, contact a local dog obedience instructor to see if they will allow you simply bring your puppy to their classes, even if your puppy is too young to take part in the class exercises. The simple act of introducing your puppy to other dogs is the important element.
What if you have missed the critical 8-12 week time period? Well, don’t lose hope. Socialization is a process that continues up to 12-18 months of age. Keep introducing your older puppy to as many different experiences as possible. Try to keep every experience as positive as you can. If your puppy does react with fear, don’t reassure him, as this simply reinforces that fear is an acceptable reaction. Instead, ignore his behavior and back out of the situation. Try again another time, and hope for a better result. Over time, your puppy should begin to desensitize to the experience and realize that his fear is unfounded. One tip would be to work in tandem with another well-socialized dog. When your puppy sees that the other dog is not alarmed or nervous about the situation, it is more likely your puppy will accept the situation more confidently.
Hopefully, this information will give you a better understanding about the importance of puppy socialization. Remember, the most critical time is from 8 to 12 weeks of age. Dedicate yourself to introducing your puppy to as many different situations as possible during this age and your puppy will pay you back for a lifetime.