When you hear the word “socialize,” you may think of someone who is the life of the party, loves spending time with others, and is well-liked by everyone they know. But, when we talk about socializing a pet, we’re not concerned with their status or popularity among their furry friends. Rather, we are referring to their ability to navigate their world confidently and safely. 

Our team at Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of La Marque knows that new puppy owners have a lot on their plate, but socialization should be prioritized for your pet’s long-term wellbeing and your future sanity. Life is much more enjoyable with a well-socialized pet, so we explain the what, why, when, and how of puppy socialization to help ensure your pet gets off on the right paw. 

WHAT is puppy socialization?

Socialization is the process of exposing your puppy to all the different sights, sounds, textures, strangers, other animals, and new environments that they likely will encounter throughout their life. Socialization involves more than letting your puppy play with others dogs and new people—although these experiences are important—and is essentially about helping your puppy make positive associations with new experiences and ensuring they feel confident and safe.

WHY is puppy socialization important?

Socialization helps your puppy become acclimated to all types of sights, sounds, and smells in a positive manner, and is the key difference between a self-assured dog and an insecure dog. Puppy socialization benefits include:

  • Building confidence — Confident dogs navigate the world without fear, making life a lot more enjoyable. They understand that strange people and dogs are not a threat, and loud noises can’t hurt them.
  • Preventing reactivity — Reactive dogs are actually dogs who are afraid and who use aggression to ease their anxiety. A leash-reactive dog, for instance, instinctively protects themself from other strange dogs and people, because they don’t view them as safe. However, socialized dogs don’t assume that every new dog they encounter is a threat, and they feel no need to react or escape when they do not perceive a threat.
  • Providing freedom — An unsocialized dog severely limits where you can take them. You cannot go to dog parks, doggy daycare, and pet-friendly establishments, or simply go for a walk with friends and their dogs. Dogs who have been introduced to a variety of situations as a puppy are comfortable in social settings, which opens up their worldand yours. 
  • Increased safety — Well socialized dogs are less likely to engage in dangerous reactive behaviors, such as running away, chasing cars or animals, or being aggressive in unfamiliar situations or toward people. Socialization teaches your puppy that new, unfamiliar things can be pleasant and non-threatening, which will put your mind at ease and make everyday outings more enjoyable—and safe. 

WHEN should you start socializing your puppy?

The first three months of your puppy’s life are known as the optimal “socialization period,” when their experiences are crucial for their development and their world outlook. These months, when your puppy’s desire to be social outweighs their fear, is the perfect time to introduce them to their world. Afterward, they are more likely to respond fearfully and apprehensively in unfamiliar circumstances. Begin by socializing your puppy at home with your family, and then explore new outdoor environments as soon as they have received their first vaccination series. Take advantage of this socialization window to help your puppy grow into a confident, well-mannered, happy adult dog. 

HOW can you socialize your puppy?

Socializing your puppy and helping them grow up as a confident adult dog involves exposure to various new experiences, including:

  • People — Introduce your puppy to your friends and family, and have them wear different garments, such as hoods, hats, and sunglasses. Ensure your pet also meets children, men, women, and elderly individuals so they will feel comfortable around all types. 
  • Animals — Introduce your puppy to other dogs and cats, and expose them to wildlife, such as birds and squirrels. 
  • Sounds — Expose your puppy to different sounds, including traffic, large crowds, the television, vacuum cleaners, fireworks, and thunderstorms.
  • Touch —Get your puppy used to being handled all over their body to make future grooming and veterinary visits easier. Gently rub your puppy’s ears, mouth, belly, and feet. When they calmly accept your touch, reward them with praise and treats. 
  • Environments Take your puppy on car rides to new places to help them get used to different sights, sounds, smells, and people. Visit different neighborhoods and pet-friendly establishments. 
  • Classes — One of the best places to expose puppies to other animals is a puppy socialization class where your puppy can engage in play and learn to respond to social cues from other animals and people.

Puppy socialization creates positive experiences for you and your pet and sets them up for a happy life as an adult. In addition to socialization, puppies need regular wellness visits to build a healthy foundation. Contact Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of La Marque to schedule your puppy’s next wellness exam and to ensure they have the necessary vaccinations.