Socializing a Puppy with People… By Ignoring Them.
Moments early in a puppy’s life are extremely important for exposure and socialization. The importance of socializing a puppy with people is known to most, but not fully understood.
Dictionary.com defines socialization as: a continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position. The British dictionary defines the verb socialize as: to prepare for life in society.
A dog’s response to strangers starts during early encounters. Socializing a puppy with people does not mean they should meet everyone they see. This is counterproductive. Adults and children can be very overwhelming to a young puppy. The problem is how they approach and what your puppy learns about people in the process.
When people see a puppy:
- They squeal, point, stare, and reach for puppy
- If puppy is nervous, most continue to talk and stick their hands out until they get to touch the puppy
- If puppy is overexcited, people encourage this with affection
What your puppy learns:
- A timid puppy learns people are overwhelming and intimidating. As the puppy matures, he will try new ways to communicate with people to back off. Behaviors include growling, barking, and escalating to biting
- A wild, out-going puppy learns that everybody wants to meet them and jumping is an appropriate greeting. As they grow into adult hood, on leash pulling and intense targeting during walks can get worse. Frustration occurs when they can’t meet people, which can result in growling, barking and even biting.
Socializing a puppy with people needs to be done in order to have a happy and healthy adult dog. As an owner, remember not to overwhelm your puppy. Take them to different places to absorb the sites, sounds and smells without forcing them to interact with other people.
If someone approaches, first read your puppy’s state of mind. Are they nervous or overly excited? If so, you do not want to encourage either. Second, what kind of energy does the human have? Are they about to explode with excitement? Are they reaching for your puppy before you give permission?
It is your job as an owner to do what is best for your puppy and not falter under social pressure. It is okay to say ‘no’ when someone advances on you and your puppy.
For those of us who want to snuggle with every puppy, remember that these early interactions are what shape a dog’s behavior later in life. Puppies learn very quickly from these experiences. How a puppy meets you and your reactions, are important. Next time you see a puppy, do them a favor and either chat with the owner while ignoring the puppy or simply, keep walking.