How to best socialize your puppy to foster good doggie manners

Caryl Wolff Certified Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant Doggie Manners

Puppy socialization is important both to you and your puppy so you can have a dog that is comfortable in the "Real World" with all the new experiences in his life, and so that he trusts you as his leader. It’s important to start as soon as you can because your puppy's brain is like a sponge and he accepts new experiences easily. With every new experience he has, he makes a connection between brain cells. The more connections, the more solid his foundation. A little effort and time spent now goes a long way towards your puppy’s confidence.

Puppy owners for such a long time been told to wait until puppy shots were completed before taking them outside – which is equivalent to keeping a child housebound until he is 12 years old!

To dogs, something is either safe or dangerous - it’s that black and white. Research has proven that a puppy’s learning experiences before 16 weeks old form a foundation that will carry through for the rest of his life. The more safe and varied experiences he has had before that time, the more solid his foundation is. After 16 weeks, he considers each new thing dangerous until proven otherwise.

The socialization process is important for him to have good doggie manners and be friendly to other dogs, to people, and to other animals as well as his being comfortable in new places. And this is yet another reason not to get a puppy from a pet store because those puppies generally come from puppy mills where they are kept in cages with little stimulation, taken away from their mother too early, (traumatically) jostled about when they are shipped to the store, and then put on display in a foreign environment and forced to interact with strangers. Betcha never thought of it that way.

So, what can you do to ensure that your puppy becomes a behaviorally fit dog with good doggie manners? Purchase from a reputable breeder or a rescue that has begun the socialization process. Then when you bring him home, you continue the process.


Do let him get settled in your home first

Remember that he has left the only home that he has ever known, his mom, and his litter mates. Even though *you* know that being with you in your home is the best place he can be, he’s a puppy and needs time to acclimate to the new people, new surroundings, and new home in his life. Give him a few days to get used to your household and the rhythms of your life, and then start the socialization process.

The perfect outcome is that he forms a positive association with each new encounter, but it’s okay if it’s neutral. You’re building up his confidence with each new positive association he has.

Do have your vet examine him

Have him checked out by your veterinarian to ensure that any medical issues do not interfere with his learning. It’s difficult for you to learn when you are ill, and the same holds true with your puppy. His very first vet visit should be a social visit and for a wellness checkup and not one where he gets vaccinated. But if it turns out that he does have some medical issue, please don’t put it off. Even though he acclimating to his new home and will likely be stressed from that, you don’t want to add fighting off an illness on top of it. Help him out by following your vet’s instructions and giving him any medications he needs.

Do take it easy

The first few times he goes outside may be difficult because he can be overwhelmed by everything’s being new. Taking the time for him to be comfortable around one new experience is better than rushing him through several. If he gets bombarded with multiple events, he may only “half cope.” Remember that everything he experiences contributes to a solid foundation of learning that he will draw from for the rest of his life.

Do plan carefully

And you do need a plan. Where do you intend to take him when he is an adult? Will he go on errands with you? Will you take him to the beach? Will you take him for walks? Will you take him to the office? Will he be riding in a car or going on a subway?

Familiarize him with these places safely now while he is still a puppy. How do you do that safely? Have him in a carrier so he can see the sights, smell the smells, and hear the sounds without putting his feet on the ground.

Do pay attention to your puppy

Socializing your puppy is not a social time for you! It’s a time to pay attention to your puppy. If he is frightened, then you should be able to notice that immediately and not be ensconced in a conversation with your friend. Keep an eye on his body language, and be prepared to leave the area if you think the situation is too overwhelming for your puppy. (Do an Internet search on dog body language to see how he “talks” with his body.)

But while you take him to new places and he encounters new sights, smells, and sounds, both you and he will be the center of attention. After all, who can resist a cute puppy? Other people may want to pet him, but you have to be the cop and watch out for your puppy!

Every puppy is different -- he may not like his personal space invaded by strangers who put their hands next to his head. Or he may be very outgoing and welcome any attention. Be careful here, too, because you don’t want to run the risk of everyone else rewarding him more than you do. Inadvertently, you’ve taught him to pay attention to everyone else *except* you. So instead of having everyone pet him, have him look at you first to get permission to interact.


Do not take your puppy where unknown dogs have walked

This includes dog parks, pet stores, dog beaches, etc. He can pick up diseases on his feet and then lick his feet and become infected. That’s why he needs to be protected by traveling in a carrier, so that his feet do not touch the ground while still being exposed to the area.

Do not let him walk into your vet’s office or on the lawn, sidewalk, or parking lot around the office

All sorts of dogs, both sick and well, come to the veterinarian’s office and the surrounding area. Don’t let him walk on the ground in the parking lot, on the grass, or in the waiting room because sick dogs come into the office, and you do not want him to pick up germs on his feet. Carry him into the office either in your arms, in a carrier, or in a crate.

When you are in the reception area, keep him confined and don’t let him interact with the other dogs because you don’t know if those dogs are ill or are carrying some disease. Even if they are not, some dogs get so stressed at the vet’s office that they can exaggerate corrections and harm your puppy.

Do not punish him if he barks at something

Barking is simply information telling you to work on acclimating to the object of his barking is. Keep him on the periphery and then slowly go closer. Reward him with each step as he gets comfortable and more confident. This may take some time, so you need to be patient. If you decide it’s too much trouble and force him into something he fears, that may affect his trust towards you in the future.

Do not let him play with dogs that you don’t know or haven’t checked out first

Because this is such a crucial time in your puppy’s life, he needs positive experiences with people, places, and other animals. You’re walking down the street, and someone else walking a dog approaches. The owner wants the dogs to engage. It’s tempting to take the owner’s word that “my dog likes everyone,” but don’t! Puppies can be annoying to some dogs, and so this dog snaps at your puppy. Correcting a puppy is a good thing because he learns that he pushed the other dog too far. But some dogs don’t like puppies at all and instead of correcting, they try to harm puppies, which, of course, is not a good thing.

Do not forget to breathe

If you’re uptight or stressed, then your puppy will pick up on that. Then he will have the opposite effect of what you want – you want him to be comfortable in new situations, so if you’re relaxed, he’s relaxed.

Jumping cartoon

Puppy socialization before your puppy is 16 weeks old is the learning foundation which will help him adjust to new encounters confidently throughout his entire life. The breeder or rescue group that your puppy comes from should have begun the socialization process. Now that he is with you, you can continue it by encouraging him through new experiences and environments as well as interacting with people and other animals.

Your puppy is going to be with you for several years. Help your puppy during these few weeks so you can influence his behavior and personality and make those years more enjoyable for both of you. What are you waiting for? Start right now!

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Caryl WolffCertified Dog Trainer and Behavior Consultant

What else would someone with the name of Wolff choose as an occupation? Caryl Wolff was destined to work with dogs and their people, and she loves her work. She got her start at the Los Angeles Music Center Opera where her dog Chelsea had a...

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