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Raise a Fearless Pup

Socialize your puppy from an early age so he grows into a confident dog.

Kellie B. Gormly  |  Aug 13th 2015


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Your tiny, adorable puppy may be just 1 month old, but he’s old enough to begin socialization, a process that’s crucial to a dog’s behavioral and psychological foundation. According to Sharon Wirant, manager of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Anti-Cruelty Behavior Services, “a positive association with a variety of experiences is essential for a pup to be confident in human society.”

The variety of experiences a puppy should encounter include all kinds of people, places, objects and environments. By making sure your puppy has positive (not scary, intimidating, painful or traumatic) experiences, he’s more likely to grow into a confident — not fearful — dog. Not sure how to start socializing? Don’t worry! These experts tips will help you help your pup meet the world.

The basics

When do I start? The bulk of socialization should be done by the time the puppy is 13 weeks old. Puppies start learning from their experiences as young as 3 weeks of age.

Should I socialize my puppy before he’s had all his shots? A lot of owners worry about exposing their puppy to diseases before they’ve finished their vaccinations. However, it’s much more important for your dog’s developing behavioral foundation to begin socialization from a very early age; you can’t afford to wait a few months!

If your puppy hasn’t yet completed his initial vaccinations, avoid meeting other dogs or people in dog parks or other areas with a lot of unknown dogs, especially where a lot of dog waste is present. Places like dog parks are risky for young pups and can be too intimidating and overwhelming for the puppy.

Can I socialize my puppy by myself? You can go about socializing solo, but consider taking puppy-socialization classes with professionals. Good trainers will have a safe and clean environment for puppies, says Jonathan Klein, an award-winning and certified dog trainer and behavior consultant based in Los Angeles.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends puppy-socialization classes. They’re an excellent opportunity to improve training and strengthen your bond with your puppy in an environment with minimal illness risk before they are 3 months old. Puppies generally can start classes as early as 7 to 8 weeks, but they should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least seven days prior to the first class, along with a first deworming. Throughout the classes, make sure you keep your puppy up to date on vaccines.

Safety tips

Want to socialize a young puppy before he is fully vaccinated? Try these tips from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Have a meet and greet. Hang out with your puppy on a busy mall’s entrance mat. People will approach you and want to pet the puppy. Bring treats, which the admirers can feed him. Make sure people and young kids don’t pull or tug your pup’s ears or tail.

Throw a puppy party. Invite family and friends to your home to introduce them to your new family member. Play music and make it fun.

Arrange a playgroup. Coordinate play sessions with other puppies and adult dogs that you know are healthy and friendly.

Walk around town. If your puppy is small enough, carry her around town, and let people pet her and feed her treats.
Go for car rides. Take your puppy on as many car trips as possible. Drive through different neighborhoods, drive-thrus, car washes and out in a rural area.

Explore the great indoors. At home, encourage your puppy to explore, investigate and manipulate his environment. Use interactive toys and games, tunnels, steps, chutes and other things that will stimulate the puppy.

Common Mistakes

Don’t assume that a puppy raised from birth with his mother and several littermates has received adequate socialization, says Jonathan Klein, certified dog trainer and behavior consultant based in Los Angeles. That is not nearly enough, and the puppy is familiar with only her relatives. Some fears don’t start to show up until the puppy is at least 8 weeks old, after leaving her litter.

Don’t push too hard or move too fast; socialize 
gradually. “Puppies can easily become overwhelmed with too much activity that can leave a lasting impression on them that the world is scary,” says Sharon Wirant, manager of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Anti-Cruelty Behavior Services. “Be your pup’s advocate if you notice she’s trying to hide or get away, cowering or trembling by taking her to a quieter area. Then, gradually increase her exposure to busier places as she’s feeling more confident.”

About the author: Kellie Gormly is a Pittsburgh-based journalist otherwise known as “Mother Catresa” to homeless kittens and cats. She blogs about her adventures in fostering at mothercatresaschronicle.blogspot.com