Proper puppy socialization is the most important thing you can do as a new puppy owner to give your dog a leg up on life. Everything else that’s happened to your puppy before he came to you was a decision made for you, but you have 100% control over what you do to raise your puppy from this point forward. Genetics gives his temperament a predisposition, but socialization helps moderate what genetics gave him.
That being said, not all socialization is created equal, and many a well-meaning owner has inadvertently created a phobia or aggressive reaction in their dog under the guise of “socializing” them. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
The best time to socialize is between 8 and 12 weeks.
The first puppy fear period starts around 12 weeks old, give or take a few days in either direction. Some puppies are earlier, some are later. During the first critical socialization window though, anything you can expose your puppy to and give him a positive experience with, he will likely have a positive attitude toward for the rest of his life.
The important thing about early socialization is that it needs to be positive and happy.
You cannot force your puppy to “socialize” and if you attempt to do so, you’ll actually be shooting yourself in the foot. The puppy has to have a positive experience with new things, so no dragging him by the leash up to meet new people. Let him go on his terms, in his own time, and make sure that the new person gives him a few treats to really seal the deal.
You need to socialize to a variety of things.
The goal to aim for is 100 new people by the time puppy is 100 days old. Fat people, skinny people, young people, old people, babies, teenagers, children. People in wheel chairs. People on bikes. People on skates and skateboards. People in coats, people wearing hats, people with facial hair, people with no hair. Black people, white people, Asian people. People who are loud and boisterous. Tall people. People on the other side of fences that look like floating heads. People ringing bells. People with canes. People with artificial limbs. People who drop things. People with friendly, vaccinated dogs. People who are carrying bags.
Be shameless about it. Walk right up to strangers and ask, “Would you help me socialize my puppy and feed him a few treats?”
You have to stop when your puppy is in a fear period, but then go right back to it when he is not.
As soon as your puppy enters a fear period, he gets to live in a bubble of only happy things and happy thoughts until the fear period passes. Then, as soon as he’s over it, you go right back to socializing your puppy again. Socialization is a life-long event; you are never “done” socializing.
Genetics are the foundation of the building, but socialization is the house that sits on the foundation. Build it with care and attention, and you’re setting yourself up for success. Approach it haphazardly or not at all, and you’re gonna find yourself out in the cold.