For the first 8 weeks of a puppy’s life it is being taught the ways of the world by mommy dog. Observing what happens in those first 8 weeks is fascinating, if only for the subtleties, or maybe not so subtle ways, that mommy dog is laying down the law to her new puppy. A flick of the nose, a movement of the paw, a sharp grrr: all these actions, and more, are laying the foundation for life in the pack.
All of a sudden, the puppy is removed from the only pack it has ever known and thrust into a world of humans and much more. Dogs are amazing at adapting to change but, like any living creature, they need help along the way so they can get used to new and “strange” experiences. From the time the puppy is introduced into your home, try to get it around as many other dogs and people as you can so that it begins to assimilate to it’s new reality. The only caveat to this is don’t take your puppy to off-leash dog parks until it has had appropriate shots, for fear of picking up a virus from the hundred and one things that are lurking in the park.
If you decide to help socialize your puppy by taking it to the mall, bear in mind that only service dogs have full access by law to restaurants, stores, etc so you will need to do your homework ahead of time to know which stores are open to having puppies visit. Most pet stores are amenable as well as stores like Bass Pro.
A great way to help with socialization is to have play dates for your puppy. Ask a friend who has a well-mannered dog whether they would like to bring their dog over to your house so the puppy can make a new friend. The beauty of this is that you can have the peace of mind that your dog is playing in an enclosed, clean space with a non-aggressive dog and you can observe the interaction, making notes of how your puppy is behaving.
Part of socializing your puppy is setting boundaries for it’s behaviour. When meeting people for the first time, you can let your puppy greet them but done in a way that is comfortable and acceptable to the people being met. You are teaching manners as well as allowing them to experience new people. Try to have your dog meet as many different types of people as possible: young and old, white, brown and black, wearing hats or hoodies. Over the years I’ve heard many stories of dogs being wary of, for example, men wearing hats or people carrying canes. One of the reasons for this is that they never experienced meeting such people.
By exposing your puppy to a variety of people and places, you are setting up your puppy for success. A well balanced, well socialized dog has to be the goal for all dog owners.