Puppy socialization for many people focuses mainly on other dogs. It is imperative that a young dog has early, positive experiences with other dogs to decrease the likelihood of reactivity, aggression, guarding and a host of other behavioral issues that can crop up with a lack of early exposure to other dogs.
However, I would make the argument that socialization with people is THE most critical component of a young dog’s experience.
Feasibly, a dog could have a highly functioning life without ever coming in direct contact with other dogs. Not so with people! Dogs need to not just be able to communicate and interact with family members, but friends, neighbors, the veterinarian, groomers, daycare staff, and even strangers. Dogs that can acclimate to new people easily will have a less stressful existence.
The biggest socialization mistakes most people commit with their young puppies are;
– they expose the puppy TOO heavily to people initially, then get lax once the dog is a few months older, then “let it ride” until there is an issue
– they don’t expose the puppy at all outside of their immediate circle of friends and family outside the house
– they well-meaningly expose the puppy to a variety of people outside the house, but do not read the puppy’s signals when the pup has had too much and actually may do more harm than good.
So, how to keep things “just right” and ensure a majority of successful interactions?
First of all, make a plan BEFORE or right as the puppy comes home! Map out a plan of HOW and WHERE exactly you will be having your puppy meet new people. Depending on your personal preferences and your vet’s recommendations, you may have to consider the pup’s vaccination status. Where in your area you can safely take a less-than-fully-vaccinated pup? Some ideas are Home Depot or Lowes, outdoor shopping malls, friends and family homes.
Your puppy should meet a minimum of ten new people a week until they are 6 months old. This will ensure your dog has a wide base of experiences to draw from as he/she grows and matures.
When meeting new people, each dog has a different comfort zone. Here are some “dos” and “don’ts” for person to puppy meetings.
- do encourage people to remain calm when interacting with the puppy
- do encourage people to let the puppy come to them
- do encourage people to offer treats, however, if the puppy is tentative, they can throw the treats on the ground, or let you feed the puppy while they stand nearby and chat with you
- do reward the puppy for sitting for strangers!!!
- do encourage children especially to touch gently. You may feed the puppy from your hand while children softly touch and pat the dog
- do be insistent about what others can and cannot do with your dog. If people cannot follow instructions, politely end the interaction and walk away
- do use lots and lots and lots of high value rewards for the entire outing!
- do not let strangers tower over, pick up, hug, or grab your puppy
- do not let people continue to press the issue if your puppy is clearly scared. Move away and try again another day
- do not let people shriek, scream, or otherwise verbally or physically ramp up the puppy
- do not feel bad for deciding when the puppy–or you!–have had enough
- do not be afraid to ask for help from a professional! If things are not going the way you envisioned, find an experienced professional dog trainer in your area for help
Your puppy should meet people of different ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes. Once you puppy is past their last set of puppy vaccinations, taking them to public places like Lowes or an outdoor mall are great for these types of experiences. You will however have to be ready to police interactions with strangers and “lay down the law” for your dog if need be.
This is your companion for the next ten or more years. Get your yummy treats ready, and get out there and experience the world! Your puppy will thank you for many years to come.