Socialization is a major aspect of a puppy’s development, and it won’t happen on its own. Puppy parents need to structure daily time for socialization, and be mindful that the best period to teach your puppy about the world via socialization occurs within the first 16 weeks. After that, it can become difficult to properly socialize your puppy.
There are behaviors that dogs will do naturally that can cause problems. This is due to the fact that some of their natural inclinations from the wild have been deeply ingrained into their biology. And some of their natural instincts aren’t necessarily very civilized.
Through socialization, your puppy will learn that he must control his nature and behave in a manner that might not feel natural to him. Puppies are extremely fast learners. As long as you remain firm, clear, and consistent, you can effectively teach your puppy how to behave around other people, children, strangers, and other dogs and domestic animals.
In this article, we lay out tips and tricks to help you train your puppy by socialization.
What Is Socialization?
When it comes to puppy training, the term socialization refers to the process of introducing a puppy to others, whether those “others” are people or animals, and bringing him to new settings for the purposes of creating experiences that shape how he should behave.
Socialization should be positive, fun, and interesting for your puppy. But socialization isn’t only about having a great time. The key element of effective socialization is you, the pet parent. Your job is to provide your puppy with positive and negative feedback, according to how he is behaving with others, so that he learns what to do and what not to do.
THE INTERACTIVE STAGES OF SOCIALIZATION
There are roughly 7 stages to a single socialization interaction. These stages are practical and in order. You’ll notice that your involvement, encouragement, and correction (if necessary) are at the heart of socialization. These are the stages summarized:
- Your puppy notices an unusual new sight
- Begin to introduce your puppy to the new experience from a distance
- Gradually bring your puppy to the stimuli and encourage him with treats or implement other corrective training
- Allow your puppy the opportunity to investigate the new stimuli as you bring him closer
- Whenever possible and appropriate, ask new people to give your puppy treats and pet him
- Take advantage of all new experiences by coaxing and rewarding your puppy for investigating and engaging with the world
- End that particular socialization experience by giving your puppy time with his favorite toy or game
STAGE #1 PUPPY NOTICES SOMETHING NEW
When you first begin bringing your puppy out on walks, trips to the park, and other new places, you know when he becomes curious about something new. It could be the fire truck across the street, a squirrel, a kid walking his bicycle up the sidewalk, or anything else in the environment. Stage 1 is all about giving your puppy a chance to be curious about whatever has captured his attention.
STAGE #2 KEEP PUPPY AT A DISTANCE
It’s important not to overwhelm your puppy with new stimuli. So, when he does get curious about the squirrel, for example, don’t try to move him closer to the new thing right away. Stage 2 is an observation stage for your puppy, and he should observe from a vantage point that he’s most comfortable. This means keep him at a distance until he’s ready.
STAGE #3 GET CLOSER TO THE STIMULI
Sooner or later, he will feel ready to approach the new stimuli. Not all stimuli will allow your puppy to approach, however. For example, a squirrel isn’t going to hold still for your puppy to sniff him, but a child will and a cat might, too. Stage 3 is the process of guiding your puppy to come closer to the new thing that has captured his curiosity.
STAGE #4 ALLOW PUPPY TO INVESTIGATE THE STIMULI CLOSELY
During this stage, you’ll need to stay watchful of your puppy’s behavior and be ready to “reinforce” good behavior and also to “curb” bad behavior if your puppy acts aggressively. Your puppy will want to take a close look, sniff, and interact with the new person or thing. Depending on the stimuli, he may not know whether or not to trust it or how safe it is. At times like these, you can encourage your puppy with pets and treats.
STAGE #5 ASK PEOPLE TO PET AND TREAT YOUR PUPPY
Stage 5 is really the bulk of socialization. When you go to a friend’s house with your puppy for the first time, for example, the majority of your puppy’s time there will be spent in Stage 5. He will get pat and receive treats, and otherwise play with the new people there. That being said, even when you’re out and about on a walk with your puppy, you can create impromptu Stage 5 experiences by asking strangers and people you encounter to give your puppy a treat and pat him.
STAGE #6 REWARD EVERY STEP OF THE SOCIALIZATION EXPERIENCE
Okay, so, Stage 6 isn’t so much a “stage” as it is an important reminder. The reminder is that you should reward your puppy throughout his socialization experiences. To put it more accurately, you need to ensure that each socialization encounter is positive for your puppy. This doesn’t mean that you should refrain from being firm about curbing unwanted behavior. We just want you to remember that when your puppy has a positive experience doing something new, then the next time he encounters the “new” thing, he will be calm, well-behaved, and happy.
STAGE #7 TREAT PUPPY TO SPECIAL FUN AFTER GOOD SOCIAL BEHAVIOR
Stage 7 is the final stage of any puppy socialization experience and it’s all about rewarding your puppy for having socialized. No matter how a particular socialization encounter went, it’s important to reward your puppy immediately afterwards with his favorite toy, treat, or game. This way, he’ll associate socializing and doing new things with a positive reward. And this will train him to enjoy doing new things.
Before we conclude this article, let’s go over two more important areas of training that tend to go hand-in-hand with socialization. Those are:
- Developing a “soft mouth”
- Food bowl safety
Different dog breeds handle objects in their mouths differently. Some breeds, like the Golden Retriever, naturally have what’s called a “soft mouth.” This means that they can pick up items with their mouths so gently that it doesn’t harm the item.
Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Cocker Spaniels, to name a few breeds, are so gentle with their mouths that they can carry eggs without breaking them. These breeds were originally used for retrieving hunted game, specifically foul, or birds. Their job was to retrieve a bird without “damaging” its body with their teeth.
When used today, the term “soft mouth” generally refers to a dog’s inclination to bite. A breed with a soft mouth has virtually no inclination to bite, i.e. to bear down hard enough to cause pain or injury, unless it’s provoked of course. Families often choose puppy breeds with soft mouths for this reason. They don’t want a dog that has a strong inclination to bite.
Even if a breed doesn’t naturally have a soft mouth, you as the pet owner, can train your puppy to use a soft mouth, which is why we’re mentioning it now in this article about socialization. While you are socializing your puppy, you can and should provide him with positive and negative feedback as he plays and interacts with others using his “mouth.” By training him to have a soft mouth, you can prevent him from using his “teeth” during play and accidentally hurting someone.
Food Bowl Safety
There is one particular natural instinct that you will not be able to train out of your puppy. Dogs are extremely territorial about their food bowls. Period. A dog is never going to share the food out of his food bowl. Quite the opposite, in fact. Dogs have an instinct to growl at and even attack anyone or anything that comes near their food.
This is why we recommend placing an emphasis on food bowl safety. In other words, equip yourself with the knowledge of your puppy’s breed’s nature and learn how to handle his food bowl properly. Most importantly, learn when to leave his food bowl alone.
Food bowl safety is particularly important if you have children in the home. Teach your children to never touch the dog’s food bowl while the dog is eating. And it’s also important to teach them not to invade the dog’s personal space when he’s eating.
There will be times when everyone in the family, including your new puppy, is sharing snacks. That’s totally different. Giving a dog treats and even hand feeding many dogs at once as a fun, bonding activity is not what we’re talking about here. In those instances, dogs are happy to patiently and gratefully receive what is offered to them. But when it comes to their food bowl, no one should touch their food or disturb them while they’re eating.
Looking for more puppy training tips and tricks? Our blog is full of helpful information to help you raise a healthy, happy puppy!