Do not read this blog post – unless you want an outgoing, well-adjusted family dog. Okay, that was a joke. Because we all want that! If you’ve just brought home a puppy, socialization should be your #1 priority in order to get that dream dog. That’s right. Housetraining and teaching basic obedience are important, but socialization is the #1 factor that determines your dog’s behavior as an adult. Here’s why.
1. Puppies under 14 weeks are super flexible.
They have very little fear and are open to new things. Why is that? When puppies are born, they aren’t fully developed. In fact, dogs have the longest window of physical and social development of any of the canine species. Take wolves for instance, who are fully mobile and wary of new things within a few weeks of birth. During this window of up to 14 weeks of age, puppies are deciding what’s normal and safe. This gives us an excellent opportunity to shape a puppy’s future.
2. Once the socialization period is over, it’s OVER.
The time varies for every dog, but somewhere around 14 weeks, comes a physical change in your puppy’s brain (no joke!) that makes her wary of anything she hasn’t already had a positive experience with. It’s a basic survival mechanism. After the “window” closes, you can still work with your puppy to build positive associations with new things, but it will take far more work to make an impact. Imagine if you kept a human child isolated from new people and experiences until age 5, then send him to school. No fun, right? It would take years of therapy for that child to gain the social skills he could have learned so easily as a toddler, and he would never be as social as he could have been. It’s exactly the same with a puppy. Once the window is closed, we can make some improvement, but the dog will never reach his maximum potential.
3. Lack of socialization is the #1 cause of behavior issues.
Excessive barking, fearfulness, aggression – all can be traced back to a lack of early socialization. These are behavior issues that often lead to a dog losing his home, or his life. Read the AVSAB position statement on socialization here. My goal isn’t to terrify you, but to motivate you to take action that is critically important for your pup’s future.
4. Socialization is even more critical for family dogs.
Socialization is absolutely essential to keep your kids safe and happy with your dog for years to come. Your dog needs to be comfortable, not just with your own kids, but also with their friends coming over, attending sporting events, hanging out at the bus stop, and on and on. Having a dog who’s not comfortable in situations like this is no bueno – for the dog or the kids. The rule of socialization is, get your puppy into every situation you want them to be comfortable in as an adult. Take it slow in large crowds and don’t let your puppy be overwhelmed by a group of adoring kids, but by all means get your puppy out there!
5. Socialization creates safe, happy dogs.
The difference between a dog who’s been properly socialized, and one who hasn’t, is unreal. Dogs who have been socialized are so much more outgoing, relaxed, and comfortable in their own skin. They’re far less likely to develop fear or fear-based aggression. They’ve experience life in a positive way from an early age, and they’re so much better equipped to handle anything it throws at them. Most importantly, they’re able to live as trusted family companions for years to come.
We’re not gonna lie, socialization is a lot of work, especially when you have kids. But it’s more than worth it. The time you spend now is an investment in the future of your dog and your kids. By the way, the dividends are unbelievable.
Feeling overwhelmed trying to socialize on top of everything else going on in your life? Join a group of puppy owners who are in the same boat, in our Surviving Puppyhood classes. Check it out here.