You hear trainers and dog people talking all the time about “socialization” and how it is important for the well-being of your dog. But what exactly is socialization, how does it work, and why is it so necessary for your puppy or older dog?
“Socialization” is the term used for the process of training your dog to be properly behaved around other people and animals, toward strange objects, and in different places other than your home or yard without fear or aggression. It is the fundamental learning process by which all puppies and older dogs learn the rules and regulations of the family and community in which they live.
Typically, a new puppy comes into your family between 8 to 12 weeks of age. At this point in his development, your puppy is going through what animal behaviorists call the “fear” imprinting stage. This means that any puppy is especially vulnerable at this time to finding certain stimuli particularly alarming, and will ingrain that fear into his personality unless you – as his pet parent – do something to alleviate the problem.
A good example of this is the puppy that gets swatted with a rolled-up newspaper when he has a potty training accident in the house. From this point on, that puppy might see the newspaper and the person who swats him as something frightening – even though the newspaper is not physically painful, it can be loud and scary to a little puppy.
A more dominant puppy might grow up to aggress against that particular stimulus – tearing up the newspaper at every opportunity, and never really bonding with the person who smacked him with it. Your more passive dog might resort to cowering in a corner or submissive urination.
Additionally, your puppy that is never exposed to other dogs or people won’t really learn the rules of long-established canine behavior. He might jump on any strange person in an attempt to get attention, or be so repressed he won’t be able to handle anyone else touching him. Your puppy might not understand that the dog in the dog park doesn’t really want to share his food – and so be open to attack and injury.
Puppies with issues like this can grow into fearful, aggressive dogs that attack anyone who comes in the yard, or who won’t let the veterinarian touch them for the annual exam. They can become the dogs with separation anxiety so bad that they tear up the house when you leave them alone.
Your job as a pet parent is to introduce your new puppy to different experiences, people, and animals. Just like the mother dog teaches her litter in a controlled environment, you need to be able to protect your puppy from anything that frightens him and slowly allow him to do more and more on his own.
With the right kind of training and proper socialization, your puppy can grow in confidence as he grows in size, and mature into the beautiful, friendly, happy dog you want him to be.