Puppy Socialization List
One of the biggest mistakes people make with their puppies is that they do not socialize nearly enough. Just because your dog lives with another dog, or lives with kids, or lives when adult men or women, doesn’t mean they are socialized to these things. Proper socialization can help prevent future behavioral problems–it is almost like a vaccine to prevent your puppy from getting sick behaviorally. Now, it’s not just about the amount of socializing, it is about the the quality of socializing–tons bad socialization won’t help but a moderate amount of high quality socialization can be perfectly fine.
Now, here’s a not so top-secret piece of information–the window of optimal socialization closes at 16 weeks old. Before 16 weeks old, a puppy’s brain is primed for accepting new things and feeling comfortable with new things. So, this means that it is absolutely crucial to not wait in your socialization efforts–far too many people call me or WPHS looking to get into “puppy socialization class” when the dog is 5, 6 or 7 months old, well after socialization period has closed. There is actually emerging research that indicates that the most prime weeks for socialization are 4-8 weeks! So while the puppy is still at the breeder’s or with the mom is when they are going to be best able to accept new things even more quickly and easily build a comfort level with exploring novel stimuli. This research is very new but if it is replicated and found sound, it is just one more reason to find a very skilled breeder if you are choosing that route and one more reason to avoid pet store/puppy mill/backyard breeder puppies who are lacking any socialization during these weeks.
For most people getting young puppies from breeders or shelters, they have somewhere from 6-8 weeks to do quality socialization, I have about 3 weeks with Loki if our age guess of 13 weeks is correct. Since I have absolutely no idea what his life was like prior to coming to me, I am socializing him as if he has had zero socialization.
My method of socializing puppies involves a balance between allowing the puppy to explore novel stimuli (people, things, footing, etc) and working on puppy focusing on me around novel stimuli. There is lots of value letting puppy explore but there is also a lot of value on starting the foundation of focus training very early on. Teaching a puppy very early on to focus on you instead of the leaf blower, dog, cat, monster, etc is so helpful in the long run. Biologically speaking, puppies are wired to pay attention to mom/dad, take advantage of this feature! Teenagers are wired the complete opposite, but if you lay a strong foundation in puppyhood (when you are more likely to get that focus), you’ll set yourself up for a lifetime of attention.
I have had Loki since Thursday afternoon, and every day he has had at least 1 adventure or activity to expose him to the world–I’m trying to pack in as much quality experiences as I can in the next 3 weeks. Here’s a list of things he has experienced with notes of things we need more of…
Women in hat
Men in work boots
Men with tools
Men in climbing harnesses
People pushing strollers
We need to experience people of different races, shapes and sizes, men with facial hair and more men with hats, people in uniforms, more babies, and some toddlers. He’s met about 40 new people, been around closely (without actually meeting) about 20 more, and saw probably close to 50 people alone while at the park, all in the last handful of days, which is a great start!
Open backed steps (up and down)
Normal steps (up and down)
Metal grated steps
Up on chairs
Up on Tables
Up on conveyer belt (check out area at store)
In a shopping cart
Soft dirt in my raised vegetable garden (yeah)
I think we’ve done a good job on exploring various footings but I’d like to encourage him to explore getting up on rocks or stumps and continue to walk on strange floorings.
Vehicles/machinery (been around/seen)
Dump truck with trailer
Bicycles with training wheels (extra loud)
I’d like him to experience heavier traffic areas and experience buses, dirt bikes, and some other machinery but he’s well on his way to experiencing a wide range in vehicles and machinery.
Big box pet store
Small boutique pet store
Shopping mall (walked in to get to pet store)
A friend’s home
For just a few days with me, he’s had quite a few adventures!
I know he has some troubles greeting other dogs so it is going to be a work in progress to have him socialize with dogs. My focus is NOT other puppies but instead introducing him to stable adult dogs who can show him appropriate behaviors.
Environmental “Stuff” (sights/sounds)
Garage door (noise and sight)
Shopping carts moving slow and quick
Small rockets (rocketry club set off 3 small rockets while at the park!)
Kids playing basketball
Motorized kids scooters
Kids playing baseball
Large inflatable pool
Water in said pool
Ice Maker sounds
Tunnel (about 1/3 the way open)
Crane moving a huge hunk of tree
This is an incomplete list but these are the big pieces. Lots more to see and experience but again, he’s well on his way.
Tail pull (gentle)
Trading games (Drop it)
I haven’t focused too much on handling yet, I plan on working on nail clipping slowly over this week but he’s been great so far.
Everyday we are doing new things and focusing on both experiencing new stuff and learning to work and focus around new stuff. It is a balancing act for sure, but it’s critical to his skills as an adult so I want to do the best I can! Socializing a puppy is hard work, if you think you’ve done enough, you should probably double those efforts! New places, new people, new experiences. Going to the same public places will build routine but won’t necessarily address the ability for the dog to adapt and tolerate new situations or new stimuli. We’ll be going on some new adventure almost everyday or at least walk a new route everyday!