Socialization has always been a bit of a contentious issue with new puppy parents. Perhaps you are unsure of how to do it. Maybe you are wary of starting before your pup has finished all their shots. Whatever your concern, I’ll cover an easy, safe way to make sure your young pup is getting the positive experiences he needs during this critical phase of development.

What is it?

One of the main reasons people have issues with socialization is because they don’t understand what it is. Many people are under the impression that socialization requires their puppy to be playing with other dogs. It’s understandable why they would want to hold off. Although it is possible for your young pup to safely interact with other dogs (more about that later), that’s not what you need to be focusing on.

Socialization is about trying to turn down the ‘I haven’t experienced that before, so it must be dangerous’ dial that puppies come hard-wired with. By systematically and gently exposing a puppy to various things they will encounter in their life, we can build confidence and help them to cope with novel things in general. There is a critical period early in a pup’s life when you can most easily accomplish this. And since our dogs need to be able to deal with all kinds of things to lead happy stress-free lives, we need to socialize them to lots more than just dogs.

So that’s some great news. Not having to worry about your pup being around other dogs makes it way less worrisome to get your pup started right away. Knowing…

How Do You Do It?

How do you socialize? If it’s not just about playing with other dogs, then what happens? Going over everything that you should include in your pup’s socialization list is a topic for another post. Let me at least say that variety is vital and some common….

Apart from variety, ensuring that your puppy feels safe and comfortable, and has a great experience are the driving factors in good socialization. Your goal is not just to expose your puppy, but instead to make their experience great. Having a neutral opinion is not good enough. Your pup should come away feeling great. That they hope to experience that thing, sound, or occurrence again.

So let’s get into the nitty-gritty now. There are 3 main things that I focus on when the puppy and I are in socialization mode. All 3 are necessary….

Choose a Spot

The very first step is figuring out where your puppy needs to be. This is important whether it is a planned setup or an opportunity that has just fallen in your lap.

Since you need to make sure your puppy doesn’t feel overwhelmed or nervous, it’s a great idea to position yourself a little ways away from the particular thing you are socializing with. Your pup does NOT need to interact to socialize properly, so be mindful of where you are. Let me give you a couple of examples:

My pup and I are standing in our driveway, and I notice a baby buggy coming down the sidewalk towards us. Rather than trying to have my puppy check out the buggy, or even waiting to see how they react to it, I will make sure I am away from the sidewalk. I may move closer to the house or further up the driveway. My goal is to get off the path of what is approaching, so it isn’t coming straight at us, AND I create some space.

I drive to a mall planning to gently expose my pup to a variety of people. Wanting to get a nice flow of people without overwhelming my pup, I choose a parking spot that is away from the entrance and in a quieter row. Since this is the first trip to the mall, we are going to stay in or near the car.

Quick tip:

Position yourself so that people and things aren’t coming right at or right up to your pup. Move off sidewalks or paths. Make some space for your pup.

Watch ‘Em

You may be wondering how to choose the right distance for your pup. That’s a great question! Well, it depends. You decide the correct distance for your puppy by watching their body language. If your pup is trying to move further away, that’s an obvious sign they are not comfortable, and you need to create more space. There are other signs to watch for that may not be quite as obvious.

They are not interested in the super yummy treats.

Their mouth is rougher than usual.

Your pup can’t stay calmly at your side.

Quick tip:

Watch your puppy. Ensure they are relaxed and comfortable and are not showing any signs of anxiety or conflict.

Make It Positive

Following the first 2 steps will get you on your way to providing better socializing experiences. There’s still one important step that many parents miss. To create a great experience for your puppy, we want to go beyond just feeling comfortable, and create a positive association. The easiest way to do this is to pair yummy food with the experience. 

Timing matters for this. Be sure that the food comes out and you give a treat once the person, object or noise appears, or your pup is aware of it – not before. Continue feeding until it goes away or you leave.

Quick tip:

Always take food with you when you leave the house. Provide treats as socializing opportunities arise.

Following these 3 steps will help you make the most of your puppy’s experiences and get the results you are hoping for.  Don’t waste your time and your puppy’s critical period. Get out and get positive. 

Note: If you are doing socializing setups inside, the same principles apply. Since your pup will be off leash, they will mostly be able to choose the distance that they are comfortable with. Do not lure or try to encourage your pup to go up to or interact with the item. Let them explore to the degree they are OK with. Remember to make it extra positive by providing treats throughout the exposure.