Pet Talk: Socializing your puppy

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Many dog owners have heard that socializing their puppy is important, but many do not know where to begin. It is important to show your puppy that not all people and animals pose a threat. Exposing your puppy to the world through proper socialization will help them develop into a social, obedient, and confident dog.

The most critical socialization time for your puppy is between two and 12 weeks of age. During this time, it is important to expose your puppy to a variety of people, animals, and situations. Allowing your pet to experience these things early in life will prevent fear and aggression in the future. It will also promote your puppy’s obedience in critical scenarios. A puppy who trusts their owner that there is nothing to fear will more likely obey their owner without hesitation.

Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained why it is important to socialize your puppy. “Socializing your puppy is important because it will enable them to be more at ease and focus on commands from you without distractions,” she said. “Socializing with a variety of people and animals also helps puppies develop socially without fear. It is also very important to socialize puppies with kittens and vice versa.”

Although socialization can continue throughout puppyhood, it is important to start the process early. Puppies begin to develop fear at about eight to 10 weeks of age, so early reinforcement of positive behavior around other people and animals is critical for social development. Puppies who are not properly exposed to animals and people may find them frightening when they encounter them for the first time at an older age. This may lead to aggressive behavior, such as growling, barking, or biting. However, puppies that are properly socialized are less likely to exhibit these violent behaviors.

Socializing your puppy isn’t as simple as allowing any animal or person to interact with your pet. Before allowing your puppy to be exposed to new people or animals, you should consider if each person or animal will leave your puppy with a positive experience. For example, if a child is unable to hold your puppy correctly, then it is best not to let them do so. If an adult may play too hard with your puppy, then it is best to avoid letting your puppy play with them. Negative experiences during this critical learning period in your puppy’s life may lead to a fearful adulthood.

In addition, you should also consider the safety and health of your puppy during socialization. Since puppies do not receive full vaccinations for diseases until about 15 weeks of age, it is important to choose wisely when socializing your puppy with other animals. Older dogs and cats that have been vaccinated are safest for your puppy to interact with. Inviting healthy pets to your home instead of venturing into parks can also help prevent your vulnerable puppy from contracting illnesses, such as parvovirus.

“One of the best ways to prevent your puppy from contracting a disease is to invite people with vaccinated animals into your home,” Eckman said. “While these pets can still carry some diseases, vaccination makes them much less likely to shed and spread the diseases. There are also several trainers who offer classes for socializing puppies in fairly controlled environments.”

Socialization can occur throughout puppyhood, but it is important to begin socializing your puppy early. Exposing your puppy to a variety of animals and people will help them see the world as non-threatening and grow into an outgoing, friendly, and well-behaved dog.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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