Raising a happy, healthy, and well-behaved dog is a top goal of most owners. But, did you know that the most influential time for shaping these traits is early puppyhood? Properly socializing your young dog will set him up for confidence and success, but it must be done safely. Read on for our seven tips on how to effectively and safely socialize your puppy.

#1: Start early and don’t miss the deadline

There is a finite period of time for optimal puppy socialization, so ensure you take advantage of these precious weeks. Puppies between 3 and 12 weeks old are most likely to accept new experiences and scenarios. As puppies pass the 12-week point, they become more cautious and leery of strange situations or people. 

#2: Get your puppy vaccinated

There is a trade-off for the early socialization period—it typically occurs before a puppy has finished his initial vaccine series. Puppies should have their first inoculations by 8 weeks of age, followed by boosters every three to four weeks until approximately 16 weeks of age. This means that the prime time to socialize your puppy is right in the middle of his vaccine series, which puts him at risk for infectious disease. So, don’t delay getting your puppy vaccinated, and ensure that all dogs he contacts also are vaccinated. 

#3: Consider a puppy class

Puppy classes are ideal in that they offer a controlled socialization environment. Most classes require that participants have at least started their vaccine series, minimizing the possibility of disease spread. As an added benefit, the majority of puppy classes include some basic obedience training, so pet owners can learn how to teach simple commands while their pups get the socialization they need. 

#4: Let your puppy take the lead

When exposing your pet to a new dog, person, or situation, let him do the work. This is especially important in a situation with multiple other dogs, since canines establish their role in the pack by observing and learning from others. When we intervene, we disrupt this natural process. While domesticated dogs need our guidance to keep them safe and obedient, puppies should learn from other dogs how to behave around their own kind.

#5: Expose your puppy to a variety of scenarios

One of the most important aspects of puppy socialization is exposure to a myriad of different people, dogs, other animals, sounds, and environments. Whenever safely possible, take your pet to meet and greet people of all shapes and sizes. Consider using a checklist like this one, crossing off different scenarios as they are completed to ensure your pup is getting a well-rounded socialization experience. 

#6: Don’t overwhelm your puppy

While constantly bringing your pup out and about can help him become accustomed to different situations, don’t overdo it. Keep a close on your puppy during each new scenario to avoid overwhelming him. Monitor him for distress signs, such as cowering, excessive panting, drooling, or walking or running away. Limit the outings to one to two new places a day and ensure your puppy has adequate quiet time each day to rest and recuperate. 

#7: Praise your puppy

Positive reinforcement is an excellent way to give feedback to your pup during this sensitive period. The intense physical and behavioral development period can be trying for puppies, so he will find comfort in knowing his companion is by his side. Let him know you’re there with praise, belly rubs, and healthy treats. 

If you have questions regarding puppy socialization, need recommendations for puppy classes, or need to schedule a visit for vaccinations, contact us today.