If you’ve just brought a new puppy home, you may be stressing out about how to socialize them right now. After all, the first 5 months of a puppy’s life are when they’re the most impressionable.
The good news is your pup doesn’t need to meet hundreds of people and dogs to be well socialized. They just need to see them.
In fact for some puppies, meeting too many dogs and people, especially if the interactions are unpleasant for them, can easily overwhelm them and cause problem behaviours to develop.
For others, too much socializing can teach them bad habits like pulling on the leash, ignoring commands, and getting over excited every time they see someone.
Simply allowing your dog to see people and dogs on a regular basis is far more important than actually meeting them right now.
Think in terms of exposure, not interaction. For most, this exposure will be enough to carry them through until they’re able to interact with them down the road.
The balance of the socialization you want to do with your puppy right now is about allowing them to explore their new world and all it has to offer. You also want to provide novel sensory experiences for them in the process, which is something that can be done easily.
We want to help young pups build a virtual ‘reference library’ in their mind so that when they encounter new and unusual situations later in life they already have a frame of reference for how to handle it.
You want them to see, smell, touch and hear new things on a regular basis all while giving them the time and space to acclimate to them. The goal is always that your pup leaves the experience feeling better about it than when they started.
You can do things like:
- Playing YouTube videos, on your TV or computer, of kids playing, crying or screaming, traffic and construction noises, fireworks and thunderstorms so your pup can listen to them while they’re at home.This is especially important if you live in a quiet household or neighbourhood. Play them louder over time as your pup becomes more comfortable with the sounds.
- Dressing your puppy up in some of your clothes or your kids’ clothes to get them used to being handled.
- Dressing yourself up in Halloween costumes, hats, wigs or hoodies to get them used to seeing people who look different.
- Taking them for a walk while you ride or push a bike, scooter, or skateboard.
- Carrying unusual items with you as you walk around the house like a broom, walker, cane, open umbrella, or any other random object you have lying around.
- Going for a walk at a shopping plaza or outside a grocery store. If your pup is especially curious or uncertain, hang out in one spot and let them watch for a while until they get bored and want to carry on.
- Taking them to Canadian Tire or another dog friendly store while you do your shopping. Bonus points if you take your pup for a ride in a shopping cart!
As you can see, there are many ways to socialize your pup and very few of them involve needing to meet dogs and people.
Your imagination is the limit. But please remember to always let your pup choose whether or not he or she wants the experience. We always want them to come away happy with a wagging tail and a smiling face.
Darcie Jennings is the founder and head trainer of CommuniCanine Training & Behavioral Counselling. She has been a professional trainer for more than 21 years providing obedience training and problem behaviour modification to dogs of all ages, breeds and sizes from all over the region. She is currently social distancing at home with her own dogs where she continues to offer her classes and lessons online.