A large part of a growing puppy’s life is his brand new experiences with the outside world. Before eight weeks of age, he spends most of his time with his mother and littermates, getting his first experiences with the other dogs in his immediate family. So what happens then when he is old enough to leave his mother and be adopted by a loving family? Your puppy’s experiences with other dogs may have prepared him for how he should handle encounters with them, but not with you or your family, which can be noisy and scary.
Between eight and sixteen weeks of age, your puppy will begin his socializing period. This is a crucial period of life where he will begin to form his opinion of the world, and the people, around him. With bad socialization practices, a puppy may grow to fear people, or worse, become reactive and aggressive around them. But with the right preparation and socialization, a puppy can become a well behaved and loving family pet. Much of this outcome is dependent on how you, as the owner, handle the process of getting to know all sorts of people, places, and things.
People can be inherently scary for some puppies. People are taller and are sometimes imposing. Children are noisy. Lots of people swarming your puppy for petting and affection can be overwhelming. An important part of owning a puppy is teaching him that there is nothing to be afraid of! Whether you do this by creating a safe environment, introducing people gradually, or offering tons of good rewards and fun games to make people enticing, whichever tools you decide to utilize will need to create a good impression of people in general.
You’ll need to have control of your puppy’s environment and of who you expose him to, being careful not to ask more from him than he can reasonably handle. Your puppy will trust that you know best and that you will control the balance between patience and resilience to help him develop proper expectations when it comes to being around people.
Before exposing your dog to any strangers, be sure that he is properly vaccinated. Vaccinations can help prevent diseases from spreading like kennel cough, canine influenza, and other nasty illnesses that can harm your puppy. All puppies should begin to receive their vaccinations at six weeks of age and continue to receive different ones every few weeks within their first year.
Once your puppy is vaccinated, get him a well-fitting collar and leash. This can help you maintain control of where he is or where he is going. Have a safe space where you can allow him to rest and de-stress if he becomes overwhelmed at any point in his socialization training. This space should be quiet and removed from any noise or large numbers of people. If you’d like, get some treats and toys together as positive rewards for good behavior.