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If you’ve ever seen a dog who is quick to bark, lunge, or cower from another dog that is coming his way, chances are, you are seeing a dog that was never properly socialized. During puppyhood, dogs must undergo a socialization period where experiences determine whether or not a puppy can react appropriately to the presence of strangers or other dogs. This part of a puppy’s life is incredibly important in order to prevent issues like aggression or fear reactivity around other dogs especially.
Proper socialization can mean the difference between being able to go out on walks or to the dog park without incident and having your dog be a nuisance, or worse, an aggressor in public. Socialization at an early age can prevent this from happening and keep your puppy from unnecessary stress around others of the same species, making it altogether easier to train, exercise, and raise him properly.
The socialization period for a puppy begins at around seven to eight weeks of age and continues up until fifteen weeks or about four months. This period of time is what you, as an owner, must take advantage of if you wish for your puppy to form good habits and associations with other dogs. This period of time should also be used to teach etiquette and manners, like preventing jumping up on other dogs or playing too roughly. Some of these manners are typically learned from a puppy’s littermates and mother, but reinforcing it is always beneficial.
As an owner, you will need to allow for good experiences and control stressful ones while using good judgment. Not all dogs will be good role models for your puppy, so it’s important to have a discerning eye when it comes to certain situations. Be prepared to remove your puppy from unsafe or hazardous places. He trusts you, so it’s up to you to provide a great learning environment!
First, be sure that your puppy has begun the process of vaccinations. While most puppies shouldn’t be around strange dogs until they are protected in full, you may still choose to have your puppy be present around dogs that you know for sure are healthy and vaccinated. Your puppy’s health is important.
Second, find a few dogs locally that can help with the socialization process. Family pets or dogs that belong to friends both make for great first meetings. Be sure that these dogs are well socialized, friendly, and healthy, to provide great experiences for your puppy.
The Training Class Method
Find the right class
Do some shopping around your area to find the right class for your puppy. The training class should not be too big or have too many students, should require vaccinations, and should offer playtime for puppies.
Attend as many classes as possible
Whether the same class that meets weekly or different classes with different teachers, try to get your fill of class time. This will allow your puppy to have as many opportunities to socialize with other dogs as possible.
Encourage good behavior
Provide praise and affection if your puppy behaves well or is playful with other puppies in the class. Try not to offer him treats around other dogs, as it can encourage other dogs to try and steal it from him.
Talk to other owners
When possible, take some time to talk to other owners about their tactics and tips for socializing your puppy. Use this opportunity to set up one on one meetings between your dogs for extra play time.
Learn to deal with distractions
Classes typically teach puppies the basics of obedience while creating a foundation for ignoring distractions while trying to learn. Your puppy may not have the longest attention span, but a large part of socialization is knowing when to stop paying attention to other dogs when you need him to.
The Playdate Method
Find other dog owners
Other owners can be people you know, or people within a meet up or group where your dogs can get together. Be sure that every dog you plan on meeting with is healthy, well behaved, and vaccinated.
Set up playdates
Make a schedule for yourself so you can have time to have at least two or three playdates a week, if possible. The more opportunities for socialization your puppy has, the better.
Whenever your puppy is playing with another dog or puppy, be sure that they are within your line of sight. Adult dogs may grow annoyed with a puppy if she has too much energy and may nip or bark at her as a result.
Even puppies can get tired of other dogs. Allow time for both your puppy and the visiting dog to relax and lay down or even get a nap. This can help break up the chaos of a playdate.
Start calm, work up to excited
The first dog your puppy meets should be well behaved and tolerant of her energy. After this, work your way up to other dogs who may be more excited and active to prevent from overwhelming your puppy all at once.
The Public Method
Visit dog friendly places
Once your puppy is fully vaccinated and can visit places with other dogs, visit them often. Places like pet stores are usually good places to get exposure to other dogs.
Use a leash at all times if you are in a public space or area. This can help you control how much exposure your puppy gets and can also help in case your puppy begins to feel stressed or afraid.
Visit dog parks carefully
Not every dog in a dog park is well behaved. Some can be aggressive or fearful. When visiting a dog park, use your best judgment as to whether or not it is a safe place for your dog. Consider keeping your puppy in an area that is specifically meant for puppies or in a separate area of the park entirely where he can observe dogs but not be approached by them.
Never approach random dogs
If you are unaware of what kind of personality a dog has, do not approach them with your puppy. This can be a safety concern, as you do not know how the other dog will react.
Go on frequent walks
Take your puppy onto walking trails or other areas where dogs on leash may pass by occasionally. Don’t stop to interact, but continue walking to encourage your puppy to focus on you, even when other dogs are around.
If you know another dog who is well behaved around your puppy, take them on a walk together. This can help reinforce good behavior while in the presence of another dog and get your puppy used to being around them for an extended length of time.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 02/01/2018, edited: 01/08/2021