It’s puppy season! There are many pups available for adoption at your local shelter. After making the decision to adopt, the work of raising a pup begins. Puppies, like babies, need your guidance to learn about the world. Socializing your puppy is an essential aspect of raising a well-adjusted and friendly dog.
Want to be able to let your dog off leash? Plan on having a baby? Want a dog that will travel well? If you want your dog to be comfortable in these situations, it is your responsibility to expose them early, positively reinforce their courage and train them without pain. By exposing your puppy to a variety of experiences and environments early, you can help them build confidence and develop strong social skills. Puppies that are not socialized properly can grow up to be fearful, anxious or aggressive. Taking the time to socialize your puppy will also strengthen the bond between you and your dog.
Begin socializing your new pup right away. Allow your puppy to interact with friendly dogs and people in a safe and supervised environment. Introduce them to new sights, sounds and smells in a positive and controlled manner. Have them meet someone who is wearing a hat or sunglasses. Give them a safe space to observe cars and get used to the noise of traffic. Take your puppy on walks in various locations rather than the same route every day. Regular exposure to a variety of situations will help them become confident and develop the skills needed to cope with the unexpected.
Download a puppy socialization checklist online and work through it with your pup. This is a fun way to set a goal, bond with your pup and track their progress. Always use positive reinforcement to reward your puppy for good behavior and for being brave. Be consistent with the language you use with your puppy and always give more attention to positive behaviors than unwanted behaviors. Avoid exposing your puppy to negative experiences, such as aggressive dogs, poorly mannered children and excessively loud noises, as this can create fear and anxiety. Do your best to make your dog’s experiences positive and reward them for handling a new situation well.
Enroll your puppy in a puppy socialization or basic manners class. These classes provide a structured environment for puppies to interact with each other and learn appropriate social skills. If you adopt your pup from La Plata County Humane Society, you get a free session with professional dog trainer, Marcy Eckhardt of pranaDOGS. pranaDOGS offers Basic Manners classes and Stay and Learn Camp. Wags Between Barks and Durango Family Dog Training also offer Puppy and Basic Manners classes that teach positive reinforcement techniques. There are many online resources for properly training and socializing your pup too, even apps that provide you with a training program you can do at your own pace.
Socializing your puppy is a critical aspect of raising a happy, healthy and well-adjusted dog. By exposing your puppy to a variety of experiences, people, and animals, you can help them develop social skills and prevent behavior problems in the future. Remember to be patient, consistent, and positive when socializing your puppy. It’s such a joy to watch them learn and grow into a confident and friendly adult dog.
Colleen Dunning is development manager of La Plata County Humane Society.