Starting Early: The What, When, Why and How of Puppy Socialization

“Socializing your young dog with other dogs early on just makes good sense. Playing with family members and other dogs you own is a start, but the more exposure you can provide, the better. Trips to the park or a basic obedience class all play into forming a solid, well-adjusted dog.” Bob West, Gun Dog Magazine

Socialization is the process of introducing your puppy to people, other animals, places and situations he will experience in his life. You are essentially training your dog how to cope with real life encounters. As we talked about in “Picking A New Puppy” (link) your puppy’s socialization should have begun with the breeder. Once you get your pup, however, it is your responsibility to continue this essential part of your dog’s training.

Why socializing is important.
Socialization is crucial to your dog’s development. A dog without proper socialization can yield lifelong behavioral problems. Trainer Butch Goodwin of Northern Flight Retrievers discusses in his article on Pre-Stressing your dog the potential dangers of not socializing your dog, “Dogs lacking sufficient socialization often show undesirable psychological traits such as aggression, fearfulness, and anti-social behavior in general.” Early socialization and exposure prepares your dog for future training and will lead to your ultimate goal of cultivating an effective and well rounded hunting dog.

When to Start
It is crucial to begin socializing your pup between 6 to 8 weeks, once he has weaned from the mother. Bob West of Gun Dog Magazine explained in his article “Off To A Good Start” why it’s important to begin training this early, “The pup’s nervous system reaches the structural and functional capacities of an adult by this time, so he’s ready to learn and intensive socialization should begin.”

Butch Goodwin also touches on why an early start on socialization is imperative, “…socialization has a limited timeframe early in life when the pup is susceptible to imprinting. And these time periods for early neurological and social stimulation only come once; after the time period passes, the results will likely be permanent.” Although beginning socialization early is important, what’s more important is how you train your pup.

How to Socialize
As with any training patience and consistency are imperative. Start your socialization training with small groups of people who all understand your end goal. West explained in “Off To A Good Start”, “Puppies who are gently handled by different people usually develop friendly and trusting attitudes toward people in general.”

Gradually increase your pup’s exposure by introducing him to larger groups, neighborhood walks, new places such as parks or hunting grounds and eventually to other dogs (other than your own).

Kids are also a great way to socialize puppies.  It’s no secret most kids love puppies and using your own children, nieces and nephews, or the children of friends can be great exposure for your new puppy. The most important thing to remember when introducing children to your dog is to start with some ground rules. This will ensure that both your dog and the children have a positive experience. The Utah Hunting Dog Training Blog uses this stead fast rule when introducing his pupies to children and vice versa: “The main rule is that the kids don’t pick up the puppy. This can often end in disaster if a frightened child drops a puppy on a hard surface. Instead, I have them sit on the ground and then they are welcome to hold and pet the puppies.” Creating a safe, secure environment for your puppy while socializing is so important when training.

For more info on Socializing check out the full versions of the sources in this artlce.