Socialization is a learning process in which the puppy becomes accustomed to strangers, dogs, and other animals, as well as to different everyday situations and environments. During the socialization phase (approximately from the 3rd to the 12th week of life), the puppy should be able to get to know all situations that it might encounter in the course of its life in a relaxed manner. Insufficiently socialized dogs often have difficulties finding their way in their environment in adulthood. They are prone to fearful or aggressive behavior and other behavioral problems.
Socialization is a learning process that introduces a puppy to being around strangers and other animals, and to different everyday situations and environments. It is important to assign these new stimuli neutral or positive. Encounters with other dogs, strangers, and the confrontation with new environmental situations can be rewarded with praise and treats be accompanied. In this way, the puppy will have a positive experience and will also be open to everything new in the future. With poor or insufficient socialization, however, problems are inevitable. It is not uncommon for so-called problem dogs to be handed over to animal shelters because their owners are simply overwhelmed. This is why careful puppy socialization is so important.
The critical time to socialize a puppy is between 3 and 12 weeks of age. A reputable breeder will ensure positive human contact and a varied environment in the first few weeks of life. Good breeders take the puppies on their first small excursions and exploration tours on different terrain structures indoors and outdoors. This promotes the safety, curiosity, and motor skills of the puppies and has a positive effect on their ability to learn. Even short car trips can already be on the program for the breeder.
If the puppy is handed over to the future owner, it is in the middle of the socialization phase. In the first few weeks, you should therefore give the puppy time to familiarize itself with its new environment and to get to know its new pack members extensively. Then you can go out into the big wide world! But be careful not to overwhelm your puppy. One bigger, new activity each day—always carrying plenty of fine treats with you—is more than enough.
Puppy schools and puppy groups
Attending a puppy school can also help with the socialization of the puppy. In a responsibly managed puppy group, the dog not only gets to know many other puppies of different breeds during the training period, but it is also confronted with various noises, obstacles, and situations and thus learns to deal with new environmental stimuli. In contact with other conspecifics, the puppy can let off steam and get to know the rules of behavior in the pack. First obedience exercises are also in the program. Dog owners also learn in a puppy school to interpret their dog’s language and signals and to correctly assess situations. This joint teamwork promotes the bond between man and dog and strengthens mutual trust.
The goal of socialization is to positively expose a young dog to different people, animals, environments, and stimuli without overtaxing them. The more versatile the environmental habituation is in the first few weeks of life, the easier it will be for the adult dog to cope with anything new. With all activities that serve to socialize the puppy, it is important that the dog owner, in particular, approaches the matter calmly and relaxed. An inner nervousness or anxiety is immediately transferred to the dog and makes it even more insecure.
Getting used to physical contact
A dog occasionally has to go to the vet or the grooming salon and needs regular grooming, dental care, claw care, and ear care. So that visits to the vet or grooming rituals don’t become a nerve-wracking undertaking for adult dogs, it makes sense to get the puppy used to touching sensitive parts of the body right from the start. Examine and touch the puppy’s paws, ears, and mouth regularly and brush with a soft puppy brush for a few minutes daily. Once the puppy has gotten used to it, try to recreate an examination situation at the vet with a second, familiar person. Have this person pick up the dog and check the paws, ears, teeth, and coat. Always end these rituals with lots of praise and treats.
Acclimating to sounds
During the imprinting phase, a puppy should also be introduced to all kinds of environmental sounds. It starts at home with the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, or the hair dryer, and in everyday life, it is a car honking, a tram tinkling, a bicycle bell, or the ambient noise at a train station, in a restaurant, or a shopping center. Make sure that every new environmental stimulus is positively reinforced with praise, pats, or treats, and only gradually expose your puppy to new sights and sounds.
Getting used to children, strangers, and animals
Your dog should also get used to contact with children at an early stage. Children move differently than adults, have shrill voices, and react more spontaneously. To get used to it, you can spend some time with the puppy near children’s playgrounds or ask a friend’s child to play with the puppy. Since children also have to learn how to handle a puppy, an adult should always be present at every encounter.
There are also different types of adult humans that a puppy should be prepared for. People of different heights or dimensions, different skin colors, those with beards, those who wear glasses, those who wear hats, those in uniform, those who are in wheelchairs, push a stroller or a bicycle. And of course, contact with other dogs (different sizes, breeds, and temperaments) and other animals (cats, horses, birds) should not be missing. With every walk with the puppy, the smooth encounter should be rewarded with new impressions.
Getting used to the environment
Often, driving a car is not a big problem for a young dog. Die-hard drivers are therefore advised to occasionally use public transport (subway, bus, tram, train ) with their puppy. The puppy not only gets to know different means of transport but also learns to keep calm in crowds. It also makes sense to get the puppy used to being alone from an early age – be it at home, in the car, or front of the supermarket. It is best to increase the time units very slowly and start with a few minutes.
Socialization is not a panacea
Every puppy has their distinctive personality and traits, some of which are innate. In the case of extremely anxious and shy puppies, familiarization measures are of little help. In this case, you should not overwhelm the dog unnecessarily and flood it with stimuli that only result in stress and negative emotions. Then there is nothing left but to spare the puppy from those situations that mean special stress.