Puppy Socialization: Don’t Miss the Critical Window

The holiday season is here, which means a lot of people are thinking about getting their family a new puppy for Christmas. What kid doesn’t want a slobbery, furry little companion with a bow around its neck on Christmas morning? While this is exciting and wonderful, raising a dog is a lot of work that requires commitment long after the novelty wears off. Many of those cute puppies actually wind up in the shelter when they are between 6 months to 1 year of age…the time when they start getting big and difficult to manage if they weren’t properly socialized and trained. However, if you are ready and willing to help your new puppy become a well-adjusted canine member of society, it will pay off throughout their lifetime and you will be rewarded with a well-behaved, happy dog. Here are some useful tips:

Dogs are like children in that they need lots of experiences when they are young in order to learn about the ups and downs of the world. What is safe, what is not, what is proper behavior, what is offensive to others, etc. Puppies need to be exposed to a wide variety of sights, sounds smells and sensations without becoming fearful. They need to meet other dogs! Walk on a leash! Children! Cats! Car rides! Do all the things you would expect any dog to do at certain points in its life, in a calm and positive manner. Make sure your puppy is enjoying what is going on. This allows them to have good associations with new things. Dogs that get this exposure usually grow up to be happy and confident in many situations.

The greatest window of learning in a dog’s life starts – and finishes – early. It opens around 3 weeks of age and closes between 16-20 weeks.  Unfortunately, when a dog does not get proper socialization in this time period, they can become fearful and/or aggressive to other dogs and people. Everything is now new and scary to them at a time when it is hard for them to process the information, and it can be very difficult for the dog to override those emotions. Do you ever see dogs available for adoption listed as, “No kids,” “No cats,” or described as fearful? These are usually dogs that have been undersocialized as a puppy. Undersocialized dogs will always have behavioral problems, it just depends on the severity.

This video is a great guideline to socializing your puppy:

You can also check out, “Before & after getting your puppy: the positive approach to raising a happy, healthy, and well-behaved dog,” by Ian Dunbar (Call number: 636.7 DUN). This book includes education and preparation, assessing a puppy’s prior socialization, teaching error-less house training and chew-toy training, and completing a socialization program of meeting strange dogs and people, etc. It is a great resource!

You will be happy you took the time to socialize your puppy, and your dog will forever be grateful too. If you don’t think you have the time or patience for working with your puppy through this time, there are always lots of older pets looking for homes!

Molly Box is the graphic designer for the library and she is also a long time volunteer for Black Dog Animal Rescue in Cheyenne. She has fostered dozens of pets over the years.