We’ve all met an adult dog who doesn’t tolerate something well. Maybe it’s the vacuum cleaner, nail trims, meeting other dogs, or loud noises. Very often, these issues stem from a lack of gentle exposure to these experiences during their critical puppy socialization period.
Puppies go through their socialization period from about three weeks to sixteen weeks. During that time, their minds are like sponges- learning about their world and how they fit in. Learning what to be afraid of and what is safe and fun. It’s essential to spend as much time during these few weeks introducing your puppy to different places, people, pets, grooming, and surfaces. The more positive experiences they have during this time, the more well-rounded they will be as adult dogs.
Think about what your puppy will see or hear in their daily life, and make a list. Things like thunderstorms, fireworks, construction sites, people in wheelchairs, trains, visiting the vet, taking a bath, people with hats, babies, children, older folks, large dogs, small dogs, cats, and birds should be on your list. Then make time every day during these few weeks to take your puppy out to experience these things. People love to meet puppies, so bringing your pup to a busy train station will ensure they get lots of pets from many different people and learn that trains are not so scary. Aim to have them meet at least 100 different people.
Be positive and reassuring, but don’t rescue your puppy. If they back up or appear scared, give them a break. Go to a quieter place they can handle, and use treats to help them associate new things with something good.
As for meeting other dogs, younger dogs tend to tolerate playing with puppies more than older dogs. Find some friends and have a playdate in your yard. It’s ok for an older dog to gently guide your puppy to what is acceptable behavior, and the feedback can be good for them. As soon as they are able to attend, consider enrolling your puppy in doggy daycare and a puppy-specific training class. They are much safer than unpredictable dog parks, and the exercise will wear your active puppy out.
Focusing on this important critical stage for your puppy will pay off dividends as they get older. Consult with a positive-reinforcement based dog trainer to get some help if your puppy appears fearful or if they have a bad experience during this fundamental time. They can help your puppy work through any issues before they become a learned fear.
For more information, here’s a great website with a puppy socialization checklist you can print and use. https://www.k9ofmine.com/how-to-socialize-puppy-checklist/