What does it mean to socialize your puppy? It probably means different things to different people. Some may think socialization means introducing your puppy to other dogs; some may think it means socialization means introducing your puppy to other people; and other may think it means introducing your puppy to other animals. All of this is correct, but socialization means so much more.
Socializing your puppy to other humans and other dogs is very important and should begin as soon as possible. Depending on who you ask you will get a different time frame as to when you should socialize your puppy. But generally socialization should occur between 3 and 20 weeks.
But what does it mean to socialize your puppy to other humans? It isn’t just walking by different people; different genders; different races; or letting different people come up to and pet your puppy. Yes, you need to do this, but you also need to make sure those people are wearing ball caps, or cowboy hats; that they have beards or are bald; they are wearing dresses or shorts.
Dogs have what we call hypersensitivity. This means that dogs are able to see more detail than people do; people tend to see in whole pictures, dogs see parts. So when a person sees another person, no matter if they are wearing a hat, beard, or cowboy boots, they still know and identify the image as a person. A dog; however, sees every part. A dog sees a weird looking think on a person’s head (a hat); they see s shiny object at the top of a person (a bald head); or an unidentifiable furry object on a person’s face (beard). Dogs cannot generalize these items as being part of a person. Because of this, they can be scary to dogs.
Therefore, it is not only important to introduce your puppy to as many different people as possible, but also different features that a person might have, including different types of clothing and accessories. Your puppy may be used to, and love, your Uncle Bob. However, one day Uncle Bob comes over and your puppy seems terrified of him and you just can’t figure it out. Well it was really cold that day and Uncle Bob walked in wearing a winter hat and scarf, something your puppy was never introduced too; she could not figure out what was attacking Uncle Bob’s head and neck!
Socializing your puppy to as many different people as possible, in as many different situations as possible, and wearing as many different accessories as possible, will lessen the chance your puppy will be fearful as she grows up.
You need to introduce her slowly, at a pace she is comfortable with. You need to watch your puppy for any signs of distress. Socialization should always be a great experience for your puppy, she needs to enjoy it or it will backfire. For instance, before Uncle Bob comes in wearing the hat and scarf, let your puppy see and smell them; let her sniff them until she is no longer interested. Then have Uncle Bob come in wearing them, maybe one at a time if you think she might be frightened.
Next week I will discuss socializing your puppy to other dogs.