The sad truth about puppy socialization is that most people do ‘what they think is right’ without any study into applied animal behavior, or even reading more than a few articles on the internet. I have been studying puppy socialization, at least 100 hours a year, for three years, and I still have more to learn.
Puppy socialization is the equivalent of ‘early childhood education’. A lot can go wrong and when it does the puppy (child’s) behavior, quality of life, their achievements, joy, and even their ability to stay with you for the rest of their life is seriously damaged.
Most people who put their dog in a rescue had every intention of keeping that dog for its whole life. They love the dog. Unfortunately, they made mistakes which caused behaviors they could not live with, or were dangerous.
- No one wants to harm their dog.
- No one sets out to teach their dog to be stressed or fearful.
- No one wants to increase their dogs frustration.
- But we do cause our puppies harm.
MYTH – Feed Treats and It Will Be Okay
Treats are not a ‘fix all.’ I’ve seen many puppies ‘over threshold’ gobbling treats like raptors as they try to ‘self-satisfy’ and treat their anxiety. The owner is smiling because they believe that their puppy is associating food with the scary thing. WRONG.
True Socializing = Safe Puppy Happy Puppy
When socializing is done right then we are pairing a ‘happy’ emotional response with an activity.
Do you notice that the word ‘scary’ doesn’t appear anywhere in that situation?
True Socialization ‘lets dogs build coping skills little by little, building confidence, so the puppy doesn’t feel fear BEFORE they go into a situation they may find scary.’
Do you understand? It isn’t about making your puppy play with other puppies. It is about teaching puppies that just because another dog is in the room doesn’t mean that dog is going to come and bully you. You don’t need to fear meeting other dogs because ‘I have your back.’ Yes, true socializing is teaching your puppy that you will protect it. That you make every situation fun. And, that you are 10’ tall and bullet proof – so the puppy doesn’t need to fear anything.
This is so important that I want to say it another way.
True Socialization ‘teaches a puppy that you can handle any situation, and that every day is safe as long as the puppy is with you.’ There is nothing to fear, because the puppy hasn’t felt fear when it was with you.
What is Good Socializing: Teach Calming
Good socializing teaches a dog to behave in today’s Urban environment ‘like an adult dog.’ It teaches puppies good manners:
Do not jump on strangers
Do not sniff strangers
Walk quietly past other dogs
Don’t get distracted.
Stay calm, even in crowds, around wild animals, and remain calm.
Puppy Socialization – How to Do it Right
The purpose of puppy socialization is to:
Make the ‘world’ become background noise
Teach puppies to focus on their owners so that they will give reliable obedience when they are older.
Build confidence by making sure the puppy has fun in every situation.
Teach puppies that you will protect them and keep them away from scary things – until they are old enough that it isn’t scary anymore. How to do this?
Teach good manners in situations where the puppy wants to engage
Mental Stimulation 2 – 13 weeks
Let puppies play with ‘high distraction’ in the distance
Train puppies with distractions around – and no punishment
Challenges the puppy can
Don’t Let Strangers Pet Your Puppy
Yes, you read that right. Letting a stranger hover over your puppy, touch it in ways that make the puppy feel stressed/fear or evern ‘over-aroused friendly’ is teaching your puppy bad manners.
A stranger can teach a dog a behavior in 10 seconds that will take you months (and hundreds of dollars) to fix.
FORCING a puppy to engage with a stranger, or yanking its collar when it wants to say hi, or letting people pet a puppy who is cowering/lunging/jumping up/not happy – will someday turn into aggression.
Would you say no to a stranger who wants to pet your child? What if they want to touch you? If you feel uncomfortable being touched by strangers, or letting a stranger touch your child then how much worse does your puppy feel?
Don’t Force Your Puppy to Meet Other Dogs
Older puppies and dogs bully younger puppies ‘from other packs.’ Even if it looks friendly to you. You are not a dog. You don’t know the subtle ways dogs talk with their bodies. Dogs do not like puppies from other packs. It is instinctual. Dogs do bully puppies. They make them submit. They force them to let their butts be sniffed. They stand ‘over’ them in a dominant position.
I don’t force my puppies to meet other dogs. When my puppies grow up they have been in situations where other dogs have barked/lunged and threatened them and they haven’t reacted. In fact, one of my dogs were in a ‘down stay’ and I was about 20’ away. A leashed dog came within 10’ and tried to attack her. She didn’t break the ‘down stay’. She looked away from the dog, to me, and I was able to calmly call her to me, away from the other dog.
Why did this happen? Because I taught her when she was a puppy that other dogs are not going to come and ‘get her.’ She is safe. I have her back.
Simply put, puppy socialization that doesn’t focus on your DOG’s wellbeing is not socialization. Think of a dog having a scale from 1 – 10.
1 – Having a great time playing with my owner
2 – sitting quietly and calmly engaged with my owner
3 – sitting quietly and calmly, at a distance, watching __(something scary)___
4 – walking away from ______(something scary)______
5 – nFeeling stressed/fearful and not being allowed to get away
6 – Being forced to get closer to something I don’t know
7 – Allowing a person or dog to make a puppy feel fear/stress
8 – Trying to get away from fear and getting a leash jerk for it.
9 – Being punished for showing avoidance (pulling away/running) or’keep away’ (barking, growling) behavior.
10 – Allowing a puppy to be hurt, or using pain or fear to correct/train/punish
Look at this scale. Only #1 and #2 are socializing. As you move through this scale towards #10 you are moving closer to teaching your puppy.
Age Makes a Difference to a Dog’s Confidence
Taking a 10-week-old puppy to an empty park and making it run over different surfaces, climb the skateboarding equipment, walk the bleachers, and balance on a stone fence is terrifying.
Taking a 4-month-old puppy to an empty park and making it run over different surfaces, climb the skateboarding equipment, walk the bleachers, and balance on a stone fence is stressful.
Taking an 8-month-old puppy to an empty park and making it run over different surfaces, climb the skateboarding equipment, walk the bleachers, and balance on a stone fence is FUN!
Let your puppy grow up. Respect its fear stages.
So how long before I challenge my puppies? I play with them, build relationship, and confidence until 10 months. Then they will have the confidence and relationship necessary to take on any challenge.
Other articles in this series:
- Behavior then obedience: Why I don’t Socialize Pt 2
- Puppy Socialization – You Can Do More Harm Than Good
- What is Puppy Socialization Pt 1
- What is Puppy Socialization
- Raising a Working Breed Puppy – Frustration Tolerance vs Impulse Control
Click here and then Download and read the paper:
- ‘Do No Let Puppies Bite’
More on Puppy Biting
- Download Our Puppy Primers:
First 10 Days Your Puppy Comes Home
Puppy Primer – Stop Puppies From Biting
Puppy Primer – What is the Most Important Command?
Puppy Primer – Potty Training
Puppy Development Schedule