Originally published on ArlNow.com
Socialization is the process of positively introducing your puppy to new things so that as they grow into adulthood, they are able to adapt to new situations without fear or anxiety.
The most important thing to know is that most puppies are only open to the socialization process between the ages of 3 to 16 weeks. This is called the socialization window. During this time, the pup’s brain and sympathetic nervous system is programmed to accept new experiences with less fear and anxiety than normal. As the pup gets older, their neurobiology changes and it becomes more and more difficult to teach your dog to tolerate new things.
The result is that the first 3 to 16 weeks is the most important time of your dogs life. WOOFS! recommends that families consider this before they get a puppy since they are going to need to dedicate several weeks to puppy socialization.
To socialize your pup, you need to be prepared to take them to meet many people, many other safe and friendly dogs and to visit many new places. During these excursions, you will want to bring lots of treats and make all these experiences fun and positive. Exposing a dog to scary situations is NOT socialization. In order for socialization to be effective, the dog must be happy and relaxed.
Puppy socialization events and puppy classes and great ways to get your pup out and about. On the other hand, dog parks and dog daycares are excellent places to bring already socialized dogs but are not great places for socialization to occur. Proper socialization requires much closer supervision.
So what about the dog who is already older than 16 weeks? Well, the socialization window does not slam shut, but trying to introduce an unsocialized dog over 16 weeks to lots of new people and dogs and experiences is going to be much harder to do than if they were younger. Unfortunately, socialization after a certain age may not even be possible. This of course depends a lot on the dog’s genetic make up as well.
If you need help, we recommend contacting a positive reinforcement training center near you. Operation Socialization is another great resource. It is an organization dedicated to safe early socialization and is a great resource for owners of new pups.