Making sure your dog is well socialized with people is the single most important thing you’ll do for her in her life. The truth is, she can eat every shoe you own, pee on every carpet, and drag you down the street when you walk her, and while you would be happier if she didn’t do these things, not one of them will cost you your house if she does them. If she’s fearful and aggressive with people, however, and threatens or bites someone, or several people, the chances for her living a long and happy life are seriously reduced.
100 People by 100 Days
The first three months of your dog’s life are the most formative for what will be her adult temperament. Your goal is for your puppy to meet a hundred new people by the time she’s a hundred days old. You may have a little makeup work to do if the breeder didn’t start socializing your puppy, but it’s not as hard as it sounds.
Invite at least five new people a week to come to your house to meet your puppy. They can come as a group or one or two at a time. Take your puppy to your job on your day off and introduce him to all your coworkers (if you have a dog-friendly environment). Go to the vet’s office when you don’t have an appointment (call ahead to make sure they don’t have a potentially infectious dog before you go), and have all of the staff members who are available give him a treat and a cuddle. Enroll in a puppy preschool class. Call the local assisted living center and see if it’s okay to bring him there to meet some of the residents.
It’s easy to find a hundred people if you try. Everyone who handles your puppy should handle him gently, but make sure they don’t encourage behavior you won’t want later, like jumping up, mouthing, or rough play and wrestling. Include people of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Don’t forget people with facial hair, glasses, hats, accents, wheelchairs, canes, crutches, strollers, walkers, umbrellas, bicycles — if there is a person attached, your puppy should meet them!
“Independence” and “curiosity” are the watchwords of the three- to six-month-old juvenile. During this time, puppies practically grow wings as they explore their world, often with their mouths. By this time your puppy has pretty much formed her opinions about people, dogs, vacuum cleaners, the vet, and almost everything else she experienced during her first hundred days. She is much more likely to be suspicious of new people and situations during this stage if she wasn’t socialized well previously.
During this time, socialization should be positive and calm with people. She should never be forced to allow someone she is fearful of touch her. Take several trips to the groomer and vet to get kisses and cookies, so she remembers them as places where good things happen, rather than bad places that only cut toenails and give shots. Since her vaccinations will be complete by this time, take her anywhere you’re allowed — pet stores, dog parks, art festivals — anywhere there is likely to be a crowd. Bring along some treats and make a rule that no one is allowed to pet her if she isn’t sitting — and stick to it. By the end of the outing, you have a dog that not only thinks people are pretty cool, but also thinks that sitting is pretty cool, too. Be prepared for her age-related independent streak to get the best of her, as she ignores you, forgets to do the right thing, or becomes selectively deaf in response to your commands. This is an excellent age to enroll your puppy in obedience classes if you haven’t already done so. In-home socialization should continue, with the emphasis on her polite behavior with guests.
Socializing the seven- to twenty-four-month-old takes on new meaning as breed and inherited temperament tendencies surface. You can’t force a naturally aloof dog to love everyone, but you can teach him that the presence of people means good things will happen for him, which can do a lot to improve his attitude. Knowing where he stands in the pack order is very important to him at this age, and he may run for higher office if given the opportunity. Fear periods coincide with growth spurts, so be extra careful during those times to ensure that his interactions with people are positive. Socializing the more outgoing dog is a matter of making sure she remains calm and polite during her interactions with people.
Trying to figure out what’s okay to let her get away with in her interactions with people? Try this guide: Would it be okay if she did the same thing to a toddler or a great-grandmother? If it’s not okay with them, it’s not okay. You can always teach her to put her feet up on someone (on command) if you want to, after she stops trying it on her own.
Consistency in rules is important, as well-meaning but clueless people can reward the very behaviors you are trying to prevent. This would be a good time to take the social dog along to your child’s sports event, if allowed, but be prepared to remove her for a few minutes if the excitement of so many potential playmates is too much for her level of training and self-control.
A Never-ending Process
Even if you live like a hermit, your dog will have to have contact with people outside his pack at some point in his life. Repair or delivery people will come to your house, and your dog will have to go to the vet, the groomer, or the kennel. Continued socialization with people through adulthood is essential for maintaining canine social skills.