Socialization simply means having your puppy experience as many possible objects, people, sounds, and experiences while he’s a youngster so that he’s prepared to take these things in stride when he’s an adult. He should experience everything in puppyhood that he will experience in adolescence and adulthood. The process of socialization introduces a puppy to anything new to its five senses, and teaches the puppy how to approach or deal with new things in his environment. This chapter deals less with the clicker than other chapters, but the information here is fundamental to your pup’s overall training.
At about three weeks of age, when the ears start to open, a puppy becomes more aware of its surroundings. Most people don’t bring a new puppy home at this age, so it’s up to the breeder or shelter to start the socialization process, which includes handling and exposure to things in the immediate environment.
Most experts agree that the window for socialization is very short – from about three weeks to sixteen/twenty weeks. After that, a puppy’s opinions about the world have been formed, and it’s more difficult to introduce the dog to new things without him being naturally apprehensive. The world is a big, busy place, and if you don’t introduce the dog to most of it, he’ll have a difficult time warming up to new people, new dogs, and new situations. He may become fearful, socially unskilled, and aggressive. He may not understand how to play with other dogs or how to behave around children. Socialization is not something you can do later – you have to do it when your pup is under five months of age. After that, it becomes more difficult and the puppy may never grow up with a trusting, normal view of his world.
Investing the time to socialize a new puppy will pay off for the life of the dog. Under-socialized dogs may even appear abused because they are so fearful and don’t know how to get along in the world. Unfortunately, this is how many adolescent and adult dogs end up in shelters. When a puppy is under-socialized, the bond between puppy and owner can become strained. An under-socialized puppy may jump up, run away, bite, cower, fight, and so on, behaviors that can frustrate and owner, and even make it embarrassing to take the dog out in public. This isolation makes the dog even more fearful and aggressive, so much so that the owners may not even want the dog anymore. It’s easier to “train in” good behaviors than it is to “train out” unwanted behaviors.
Tiny dogs can often be socialized poorly because their owners tend to coddle them or pick them up when they’re afraid or aggressive. Poor behavior isn’t innate in tiny dogs. Little dogs that are carried around constantly as puppies never learn to walk well on a leash and are often aggressive and fearful. People are always grabbing them and invading their personal space. People think it’s “funny” when a tiny dog growls and lunges at someone. These dogs can become chronic biters and don’t learn to play well with other dogs, which is dangerous for a little dog. Imagine a five pound Chihuahua trying to attack an eighty pound Rottweiler! Speaking of Rottweilers, the breeds bred to guard property or livestock can often be difficult to socialize to strangers, so you’ll have to make extra effort with puppies of these breeds as well.