To Socialize, or Not to Socialize: This Is the Question
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks… Well not exactly, you can certainly teach an older dog a new “trick,” but you won’t likely be able to teach him to accept something he did not experience in the first 16 weeks of his life; this is your puppy’s crucial socialization period.
“…But my vet told me not to take my puppy outside…” If your vet tells you that your pup cannot leave your home until he has finished his vaccinations, then please ask questions, do not just accept this at face value. The questions you should consider asking include:
Can my puppy go outside if I carry him?
Your vet should be fine with this. Your puppy can, and should meet as many different people as possible in his first 16 weeks of life. Carrying him around your neighborhood will help with this. Also your pup cannot catch anything from people, so if he is a breed that as a puppy will stay small enough to carry easily, this will be a great way to meet people. I find it is best to carry your pup around and look for people who notice him. Any time a person even gives me an “aww, cute puppy!” I ask if they would like to pet him. Try to find different looking people, in hats, or sunglasses, and of different races, sizes and genders. These positive experiences with people who all look different will create an adult dog who is friendly towards people of all shapes and sizes.
Can my dog play with other dogs?
This is where we have to be most careful. If you do not know the dog and owner very well, I wouldn’t risk it! It is much safer to find puppy play groups where your pup can play with other pups his age. If you choose to completely avoid dog-dog interactions until your pup has completed his shots, this can be fine, but it should be your main focus to find play groups, or make play dates for your pup right after his last shots. This is another reason to be sure you have tackled all other forms of socialization before this point. It is also important to remember that even if you have another dog, this does not count as dog-dog socialization. Give your pup a chance to understand more dogs by meeting as many possible; if you only knew your siblings you might not understand different kinds of people; the same is true for your dog.
If you live in a city I find it best to bring your puppy to a noisy street corner, and just sit; a bus stop can be a great place for this. If your pup gets scared, and you are not, you can comfort your dog and let him know that the noises won’t hurt him. He can accept this much more quickly and easily during his crucial socialization period. This is the time to expose him to anything and everything he may need to tolerate during his lifetime. Some common things include; car rides, different people, babies, children, different homes, other animals in the house, and even plane rides. If you can fit in the time to practice these things with your pup early on, you will find these situations much easier when he is an adult dog. Socialization is crucial for your dog, and it can be done safely and still be effective, so don’t be so quick to just take your veterinarians advice without asking more about this very important time in your puppy’s life.
If I haven’t convinced you, then I strongly encourage you to speak to your friends with dogs. Ask them what they did, and how it has affected their pup’s behavior, training, and life. Try to find at least one friend who listened to the vet, and kept his pup locked away for four months, and try to find someone who did safe socialization. It can also be helpful to try to find people with the same or similar breeds as your pup.
As time passes and more studies are done about dogs, we as people should continue to evolve our opinions based on this research. If your vet simply cannot accept that dogs have a crucial socialization period, which on average is the first sixteen weeks of their life, then I would consider finding a vet who can accept this and reflects our current understanding of dogs. This may sound harsh, but unsocialized dogs take a lifetime of training and conditioning to catch up to the socialized puppies, it can be done safely and effectively without risking your puppies health, and it should be!!