What is Puppy Socialization and Why is it Important?

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Puppy Socialisation
Image via Flickr: Susan E Adams

Socializing a Jack Russell puppy, or any breed of puppy, is vital to dispelling the natural fear and making him comfortable in any situation that arises throughout his lifetime. Early socialization makes for a happy, well-adjusted dog and a lifetime of good memories with your dog.

What is Puppy Socialisation?

It’s helping your puppy become comfortable in a human world. Our world is filled with different types of people, sounds, scents, structures, animals and other dogs that can send frightening signals to a small puppy.

Dogs are very accepting of their environment and people when they are very young. They will run up to anyone who comes near, tail wagging, ready to play and to be handled…..until they reach a certain age.

At that age, suspicion, timidity, fear and even aggression can replace the trusting nature of a puppy unless they are socialized.

Why It’s Important

For Jack Russell Terriers and all other dog breeds, the age they become wary and less accepting  varies, but is typically before they are six months old. Puppies will become less accepting and more suspicious of anything or anyone that is new. This is a natural defense mechanism puppies have – it allows them to become used to the everyday sounds in their environment without fear, while giving them a healthy caution of anything different.

If a puppy is not socialized it can make living with them quite difficult. A trip to the vet will be a nightmare. Having company over will throw the dog into a barking fit or cowering in another room. An innocent stranger reaching out a hand to pet the dog’s head could end unpleasantly.

Everyday occurrences will go much smoother and be more enjoyable for both you and your Jack Russell is he is socialized at an early age. A well socialised dog will remain calm in any situation and in any environment. They will also live a much more relaxed, peaceful and happy life than dogs who are constantly stressed out by their environment.

A peaceful, relaxed dog also help the owner to be relaxed and less stressed too.

Best Age

Between the ages of 3-12 weeks is the best time to start the socialization process. This is the age bracket in which puppies are most accepting of new things. After 12 weeks of age, the puppy’s natural fear and suspicion begins to kick in and he becomes less accepting of new things each passing week. After six months, trying to get the puppy used to something that frightens him is extremely difficult.

Socialization Principals

Socialization for your puppy is not an all-or-nothing project. You can socialize your puppy to the degree that will suit your lifestyle. If your dog will have limited contact with just a few family members and friends, never leaving home except for vet visits, then minimal socialization will be needed.

If you plan to use your new puppy as an adult therapy dog, then he will need a lot of socialization so he can get used to a wide range of people, sounds, sights, scents and environments.

The goal is to make your dog comfortable in his environment, whatever that may be. The more active you plan to be with your adult dog, the more you need to expose him to as a pup so he can become acclimated and remain calm.

Pay attention to your puppy’s body language, he will let you know how he wants to socialize. If your pup shows interest and moves towards a person, animal, or thing, he is ready to engage.

If your puppy is cautious or hesitates, wait. Let him watch from a distance. Pups don’t have to interact with everything and everyone during the socialization process. Just being in a different environment, or hearing noises, or seeing people or animals can help him become familiar and dispel any fear they may have.

If your puppy is over-excited to the point of being frantic, it might be a sign that he is lacking confidence or even a little scared. Help your pup build confidence and calm down by removing him from the location, stroking his head and speaking softly to him. Give your pup a treat and try once again, but keep the interaction with new person or place very brief.

Tips for Socializing Your Puppy

  • The first tip to remember when socializing your puppy is to make it fun. Choose a time of day when you and your pup are rested and relaxed. Taking a walk in a different neighborhood each day is an excellent way to socialize your pup in a manner that he will feel comfortable and associate all the new exposure with a pleasant experience. Always praise your pup and reward with a treat at the end of the walk or other successful interaction
  • Create safe scenarios in which your puppy can interact with people and animals. Invite a friend with a well socialized dog over to your home for a visit. This will allow the pup to be in an environment he feels safe in while experiencing something new.
  • Start slowly and gradually work your way up towards the desired exposure. For example, If you take your pup to a child’s sporting event where there is a lot of screaming kids and your pup shows signs of fear, move away from the action. Instead of sitting on the bleachers, take a chair and sit an the edge of the sports field. Next time you go, move your chair a little closer. Continue to do this until your puppy is comfortable sitting in the bleachers.
  • Expose your puppy other animals as soon as possible. Dogs, cats, hamsters, etc., since these are animals he will encounter at the vet’s office, familiarity with their sounds and smells will keep him calm during interactions as an adult.
  • Take frequent trips so your puppy will see and hear new things. Travel on public transit that allows dogs and visit venues that welcome canines. The sounds of honking horns, loud mufflers and constant talk is good exposure for a dog that will be in public often. The aroma of food cooking and clanging of dishes, pots and silverware will help the dog be confident and patient at meal time in any environment.
  • Skip dog parks for now. Not all dog encounters at parks are positive ones, and the last thing you want at this stage of socialization is for your puppy to have a negative experience with another dog. Introduce new dogs one at a time so you see how your puppy will respond.
  • A well-rounded dog will be able to interact with strangers and other animals without incident.  Sudden noises will not elicit a fearful response. To help your puppy become a well-rounded, relaxed adult dog, start young and be consistent with your socialization routine. Praise frequently and reward at the end of a session with a special treat.