Socializing Your New Puppy

You just got a new puppy. Congratulations on your new addition! In addition to protecting your new family member from disease, you will want to ensure your puppy’s behavioural wellness. In order to accomplish this goal, you need to expose your puppy to many different people, pets and experiences (socialization). Traditionally, it was recommended that you wait until after your puppy’s vaccination series was complete before starting this process. We now know that waiting until this time is not in your pup’s best interest as the optimal window for socialization occurs between 6 weeks and 14 weeks of age, well before the puppy vaccines are finished. Unfortunately, fear related behaviour problems occur much too often later in life if puppies are not fully socialized at a young age.

What to do?
You want your puppy to be exposed to the other pets, places, sounds and situations that they will experience in the life they share with you and to learn not to be afraid. Giving rewards (small frequent food treats are much better than verbal reassurance!) at the time of the exposure makes the puppy understand the experience is positive and fun.

Suggestions

  • Join a puppy class to allow your pup to make new friends around his or her age.
  • Have a puppy party and invite friends and family over. Make sure to pass your puppy around and have everyone give reward treats.
  • Try to have your new pup meet a minimum of 7-10 new people per week and receive treats from each one. (try to mix up the people-young, old, male, female, different clothes ie hats!)
  • Meet a minimum of 3-5 new (friendly and with a known vaccine status) dogs each week.
  • Go to an outdoor café along a busy street with your puppy resting at your feet. Allow strangers to pet your puppy and give treats.
  • Make one trip to the veterinary clinic each week. The staff at Markham Veterinary Clinic love to have our puppy friends come for “happy” visits just to receive treats and hugs from the staff!
  • Expose to sounds around your house (crying baby, train) and remember to give the food treats!
  • Take to at least 3 new environments each week(for example :gravel, wet grass, sand and reward with food treats frequently
  • Go for long walks in your neighbourhood at least twice weekly.
  • Take short rides in car at least 2-3 times per week. Try taking your new puppy through drive-thrus and car washes.
  • Arrange a “ puppy play date” with friends and family that have puppies/dogs that are up-to-date with vaccines

While you are working at socializing your puppy, it is important that he or she does not have a bad experience. Try to make sure you have enough control over each situation (ie make sure you know the other dog is friendly!)

If your new puppy does become frightened, it is best not to console him or her as this may reinforce that it is a situation in which to be afraid. Stop the situation as rapidly and calmly as possible and get the puppy away. Look for or create an opportunity to make a positive follow-up experience, so you may give a reward, even if it is not with the same encounter.

Written by Dr. Karen Thomas