In those first few days and weeks of being the parent to a puppy, the last thing you may feel like doing is scheduling playdates with other neighborhood or family pets. You want your puppy all to yourself, and you’re probably a little overwhelmed at all the care and attention that a puppy takes. But socialization goes far beyond interaction with other animals. And failing to understand the importance of socialization for your dog could lead to serious behavioral issues that are nearly impossible to break.
The Meaning of Socialization
The best time to expose your dog to new people, animals, environments, and other stimuli is during the puppy stage. While little pups can be skittish and easily overwhelmed at a young age, this is the time to get your new best friend used to the world around them – even if it isn’t going to change that much from day to day. There will always come a time when your dog needs to stay with someone else or spend time in an unfamiliar setting, like a pet boarding facility. Lack of socialization will make this harder on both of you – and on the people who are being asked to care for your pet in your absence, or the pets who have to share the environment with them.
The goal of socialization is to engage all of your puppy’s senses. You want to expose him to different sights, sounds, smells, and sensations, even if they won’t always be part of his daily life. Your level of success with socializing your pet will determine how well he behaves as an adult.
The Importance of Socialization for Your Puppy
It can be exhausting to care for a puppy. You’re in the throes of house training, most likely, and attempting to lay down some ground rules about what furniture it’s OK to lay on, why the crate is a happy place, and why you have to clean their teeth regularly. The last thing you may feel like adding to your repertoire (and temporarily sleep-deprived nights) is a happy hour.
But exposing your puppy to new situations and places and humans and pets will help him develop a comfort level that will stay with him throughout his life. You want your dog to love you the best – and if you’re good to him he absolutely will – so don’t be selfish about sharing the love. You’re doing your pet a favor by giving him the opportunity to learn how to handle new and challenging experiences, and teaching him what is acceptable behavior and what is not.
The Consequences of a Lack of Socialization
Making the conscious choice to avoid socializing your puppy, for whatever reason or excuse, often results in creating pets that live in a state of fear. Their responses to unfamiliar settings or events or people could lead to fear responses – from urinating on the spot to snapping or growling – and anxiety. You might try to chalk this kind of behavior up to your dog’s individual personality, but it’s really a fight or flight response that can turn your once-beloved puppy into a wholly unsuitable and dangerous family pet.
It can be difficult to reverse poor puppy training, and unfortunately a great deal of the dogs that wind up in shelters are there because of behavioral problems. Destructiveness is common, and of course aggression. The dogs were not born bad. They were raised poorly and they were improperly or incompletely socialized. As a result, anyone who has the decency and willingness to adopt an abandoned creature is in for quite the job of socializing their pet as an adult. It’s no easy task, and it may be insurmountable.
If you have the good fortune of adopting a puppy and starting with a clean slate, do your dog and yourself a favor and schedule in socialization time as often as possible as part of your pet care routine. Get your puppy off on the right foot and your bond will be a strong and happy one. Need socialization advice or have questions about your puppy’s care? Northpointe Veterinary Hospital is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.