Socializing a New Puppy
What If My Puppy Seems Frightened During Socialization?
Even though 3 to 12 weeks old is a time when puppies are most comfortable with new experiences, they might sometimes find a new experience frightening. Whenever this happens, it’s important to introduce your puppy to the scary situation much more gradually, and to make a big effort to do something your puppy loves during the situation or right afterwards. For example, if your puppy seems to be frightened while sitting on your lap in a schoolyard full of children, then sit further away from the action and offer your pup a delicious treat each time a scary noise or movement happens. Another solution is to go to a much quieter park where only a few children are playing, use praise and treats to help convince him it’s a great place to be, and then over days or even weeks of your socialization sessions, gradually approach a schoolyard again once he’s started to like the sights and sounds of active children. (For more detailed information, please read our article, Fear of Children.)
One great way to help socialize a puppy is to attend puppy kindergarten classes. These are classes designed especially for puppy training and early socialization. In a typical puppy class, off-leash play and play-fighting helps socialize puppies with each other, teaches them to be gentle with their mouthing and biting, and gets them used to being handled by a variety of people. Some classes even include exposure to odd sights and sounds using props, CDs of sounds, and theatrics with costumes to accustom the puppies to a wide range of life experiences. Puppy classes also teach some basic obedience skills, so on top of the socialization component, you’ll learn how to ask your pup to comply with your requests and behave according to your expectations.
Vaccinations and Disease Risk During Early Socialization
Most young puppies aren’t fullyprotected against the diseases we vaccinated them for until they’ve had all of their puppy shots. This is mainly because the antibodies they get from their mother can interfere with the ability of the vaccine to have its full effect. Even though puppies’ immune systems are still developing during their early months, if we wait until a puppy has all of his shots before socializing him, we miss our chance to do it. He’ll simply be too old. The good news is that if you take some commonsense precautions while socializing your puppy, the risk of infection is quite small compared to the much larger risk of your puppy developing serious behavior problems with fear and aggression later in life.