From birth to 12 weeks, your puppy is like a sponge. They soak up everything they see, hear, and smell. And when they are exposed to new things during this time, they learn not to be afraid! This means that it is incredibly important to give them tons of practice meeting new people, things, and animals right away.
It's a big job, exposing your pup to as much as you can in the first 12 weeks, but the reward is great! If you expose your puppy to lots of new and potentially scary things before 12 weeks, it will be easier for them to overcome fears of new things after 12 weeks. Before the age of 12 weeks, it often only takes 1-3 exposures to a scary thing for a puppy to overcome a fear. You get a lot of reward for a little effort! However, always air on the side of caution. If you think something might be a little too much for your pup or if you aren't sure if the dog you want them to meet is friendly, be safe! Good exposures imprint good feelings, bad exposures imprint bad feelings!
Try these 3 things to get your pup started off on the right paw:
1) Once your vet says it's safe, start taking your puppy on adventures! Introduce him to as many other dogs as you can find. Big dogs, small dogs, young dogs, old dogs. Loud dogs, hyper dogs, dogs with pointy ears, dogs with floppy ears. You want your pup to have lots of positive, friendly experiences with every kind of dog imaginable. He may get along great with all the dogs in your neighborhood, but if he’s a year old before he sees a Chihuahua for the first time, his initial reaction may be “What the heck is this? A dog? A cat? A rodent? I’m going to bark like crazy because I’ve never seen anything like this!”
2) Find a puppy playtime. Most communities have one. Check with your local trainer. These puppy playtimes are usually supervised by a professional dog trainer -- ask questions if you're not sure what a particular behavior means!
3) Remember that socialization is about more than just other dogs. Your pup needs to be introduced to lots of children and adults. See how many people you can introduce your pup to in the first 12 weeks of his life! Just like with dogs, you want a lot of variety. Tall people, short people. People with hats, people with glasses. Children and adults. People on bikes and skateboards. People with canes and wheelchairs. People of different races, people wearing backpacks and coats, all sorts of people.
Socialization is one of the most important things you can do for your pup. By socializing your dog, you are creating a pet who will be calm and collected when confronted with new people or situations. They will not be anxious and can be trusted in social situations.
Finally, most importantly, ALWAYS give your dog treats and affection when they are meeting something or someone new. If they're frightened, don't force them to say hello, just offer treats until they realize it's not so scary after all!
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