Why it's important to socialize your puppy

December 10, 2020

Socialization is a determining factor in your dog's lifelong behaviour. Help your new puppy master the world!

You've just adopted your puppy and you're madly in love. He's adorable and you promise to give him nothing but the very best. So, you should know that between the ages of 3 weeks and 4 months—yes, even while your puppy is still at the breeder's—he's learning to socialize, and at this point in his life more than ever, you have a key role to play. “It's a crucial developmental time in a puppy's life, when he's a virtual sponge. He has the ability to learn much more quickly at this age than as an adult,” says Francis Rousseau, an animal health technician in Montreal.

It's during this socialization period that your dog will learn to distinguish between what is non-threatening and what constitutes a real danger within his environment. “If he is not exposed to certain things at this stage, he could be afraid of them later on and develop poor behaviour,” he adds.

For example, if you live in the country and you bring your pooch to the city for the first time, she could think that pedestrians, cyclists, cars and other dogs are potential threats, which might make her aggressive or anxious. To stop her from developing behaviour-affecting fears, it's in your best interest to expose her to a multitude of experiences during this socialization period.

One step at a time

Some folks mistakenly believe that simply bringing a puppy to a dog park will enable him to learn how to socialize. According to Francis Rousseau, you should err on the side of caution and avoid big crowds. “If you go too fast, your dog might have a bad experience and develop a deep-seated fear which will then be difficult to get rid of, ” he warns.

  • First, find a controlled environment. Start by visiting people who have a dog and who know how to handle their dog properly.
  • Watch your dog's reactions. If she shows signs of stress or discomfort, don't wait to step in, but be sure not to reprimand her, as you might scare her and hinder her learning.

Help him overcome his fears

If your puppy is afraid of something in his surroundings, the vacuum cleaner for example, let him ease up to it at his own pace. Rousseau suggests that “you might turn it off so that he comes close to it on his own. Give him a treat and pat him so that he associates the fear-causing item with something positive, until he is no longer weary of it.”

Seek expert advice

If you've never raised a dog before, our expert recommends signing him up for puppy training. Group classes, offered by individual trainers as well as schools, cost somewhere between $100 and $200 for four weekly lessons and allow young dogs to mix with other canines in a positive learning environment. In addition to enabling your companion to socialize, you will learn certain teaching methods and habits to make you a better master.

Psych 101

According to Rousseau, some animals simply aren't social. If that's the case with your dog, it's probably best not to force her to be around other dogs. However, if that personality trait becomes a problem, you might consider desensitizing and conditioning techniques to change her behaviour. The same holds true if, for whatever reason, your dog was unable to overcome a specific fear during her socialization phase. Rousseau agrees with many other specialists who believe that it's never too late to teach your dog good manners!


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