Generally speaking, most people understand Puppy socialization to mean getting your dog used to the sights, sounds and experiences that are part of life. This includes a wide variety of things from other dogs, children, family members and neighbors to cars, skateboarders, bicycles, airplanes, elevators and even bodies of water. It is also important for puppies to become comfortable with the smells of different homes, environments and people’s laundry; different floor and ground surfaces like carpet, tile and wood; and all of the sounds that will be a part of their everyday lives including voices, music, television and traffic noises.
Puppies who are not properly exposed to people, places and other animals will be at a greater risk of developing fears and misconceptions that could affect their life-long health, well being and temperament. This is why puppy socialization is so important and something that all new dog owners should make a priority.
Most people assume that the best way to get their pup to be comfortable with all of these new things is to take them to a lot of dog parks, go on many long walks and attend lots of puppy obedience classes. While these are all important activities to engage in they should only be the very beginning of your puppy’s socialization journey.
While it is very important to get your puppy comfortable with all of the things that will be a part of their life, it’s also important to introduce them to other dogs in a safe and controlled environment. This should not be at a public dog park where they meet dogs that you do not know, this is not a good idea for a number of reasons. It is also important to get them used to the various sights, sounds, smells and “feels” of the human world that they will experience throughout their lives such as vacuum cleaners, people wearing hats, doorbells, brushing, bathing and other handling that they will be subjected to at home, at the groomers and vet’s office.
Most puppies have a happy-go-lucky personality and are curious about the world around them so they tend to approach new things more with curiosity than fear. However, you should never force your puppy to interact with a new person or experience they are visually uncomfortable with. This will most likely result in a negative association with that person or place and may even scare them in the future if they encounter it again. So it is important to move slowly and carefully, allowing the puppy to explore their new environment on their own terms. Reward them with treats and play to reinforce that the new experience is not a scary one. This will help them feel at ease when they encounter it again later in their lives. This is how you can help them develop an emotional resilience and behavioral flexibility that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. The more they are able to remain calm in stressful situations, the better their behavior will be.