Congratulations….you have a new puppy! And there is so much to do in so little time. Housetraining, chew training, leash training, polite greetings, socialization, coming when called… the list never ends. Not to mention all the good-intentioned “advice” from your family and friends!
While everything seems pretty urgent, the single most important thing you must do during the first 16 weeks of your pup’s life is to provide plenty of opportunities for socialization. This will help your puppy become friendly and confident, as well as resilient and comfortable in the world in which he lives. It can prevent your dog from becoming fearful of the unknown and from becoming aggressive as a result of being fearful.
However, it’s not just exposure to the world. It is gentle exposure to the world with very positive associations. You never want to scare or frighten your puppy. Always be sure your pup is enjoying the experience and never force your pup into any situation or allow him to be teased and tormented.
“But how can I do that?” you say, “my puppy hasn’t had all his shots!” Rest assured, there are plenty of low-risk ways to socialize your pup. Below are some ideas for safe socialization opportunities:
- Sit outside on your front porch. Feed your puppy breakfast when the big trash trucks pull up. When a bike, skateboard, strangers, stroller (in other words, anything) goes by, give your pup a yummy treat.
- Throw a party and invite some friends, particularly the louder, outrageous ones. Include all sizes and colors of people and ask them to wear masks, funny hats, glasses, gloves, or come in on crutches or to use their imagination. Give each guest some puppy food and let your hungry puppy go from person to person and collect his dinner. Reward your guests with drinks and snacks!
- Hang around outside a mall, grocery store or car wash. Take a chair to “camp out” for a while, holding the pup in your lap. It is virtually guaranteed that all kinds of people will greet your puppy. Feed bits of chicken. YUM!
- Take your puppy to friends’ houses to visit. Take your pup to play with a friend’s dog if you know their dog is kind to puppies and that their dog is healthy. Bonus if your friend also has a couple of calm, friendly children.
- Find a clean, safe class run by certified trainers using modern methods. Register your pup for a class that starts about two weeks after your pup’s first shot, between 8 and 16 weeks of age. Well-run puppy socials, that do not allow pups to become overwhelmed or to become bullies, are an excellent option.
What will your puppy come across in its lifetime? More things than you can imagine! This small window of time will make the biggest impact on your puppy’s entire future and how he views his world, so don’t waste a moment of it.