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The Importance of Play When Socializing Your Puppy

woman and child playing with dog and KONG

Puppy socialization can begin as early as 3 weeks old and continue for the first year of your dogs life.  It gets progressively more difficult to train and socialize a pup after this time period, so starting early is a good idea. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about how to socialize your pup.

The Importance of Socializing Your Puppy

Socializing a dog a must if you want your fur baby to become accustomed to other dogs and humans. When a puppy is properly socialized, they are apt to flourish into a more relaxed and well-mannered dog. They’ll also be less likely to become anxious or contentious in new situations, whether that’s going to the vet, taking a road trip, entertaining guests, or having a new pet in the house. The best part, though, is that it can be fun as it involves a ton of playtime and bonding!

How to Socialize a Puppy (With Other Dogs and Humans)

Socializing a dog can be fun for both of you. No need to stress. The steps are actually quite simple if you keep practicing every  day so that those good habits can develop. We promise all of your efforts will pay off. 

Just remember that not all dogs are the same, so some socialize easier than others. The trick is to pay close attention to your pup’s body language. You need to make sure that the situation (be it another dog, person, loud environment, etc.) is not too overwhelming. The goal is to make your dog more comfortable by exposing them to different situations in order to ease their anxiety. 

How to Socialize Dogs With Other Dogs

  • Keep your pup safe. To play it safe, hold off on visiting dog parks until all of the vaccinations are completed, so set up one-on-one playdates instead. 
  • Introduce your puppy to different people, places, and things. If you don’t expose your pup to new things from the get-go, he/she may wind up fearful or aggressive in the future. Here are the main items that should be on your socialization list:
    • Different people (old, young, loud, timid, overly aggressive, etc.)
    • Different places outside the home
    • Vehicles
    • Other dogs
    • Cats
    • Children
    • Unfamiliar dress (think hats, hoods, sunglasses, etc.)
    • Body handling (ears, paws, tail, etc.)
    • Different landscapes (parks, beaches, forest preserves, etc.) 
    • Different flooring and ground surfaces (grass, concrete, carpeting, hardwood floors, etc.)
  • Take it one step at a time. The socialization list is overwhelming to a puppy, so don’t try to do too much too soon! For example, introduce your furball to close friends and family before trying to make them comfortable around strangers. Avoid extremely loud and/or busy places in the beginning. If you have a large home, only let your puppy explore a few rooms at a time — ideally, with different floor types such as carpet and linoleum. 
  • Schedule a puppy playdate. Before turning your pup loose in a dog park, start by hosting a playdate with another dog on your turf. Whether it’s a neighbor, friend, or family member, just make sure their dog is properly socialized so that the experience isn’t counterproductive. Want to get the most out of any playtime interaction? Use your KONG Club app to talk with certified trainers to create a socialization plan!
  • Expand your pup’s horizons. Once you’ve experimented with a variety of different people, places, and things, encourage your puppy to get outside of its comfort zone by taking him/her to a friend or family member’s house for a playdate, go for a walk in the neighborhood in areas you may not have explored before, and once all of the vaccinations are completed, head on over to the dog park. 
  • Consider puppy classes. Providing your puppy has already started the vaccination process, take the socialization process to the next level by signing your dog up for puppy classes. Along with being exposed to other dogs, professional trainers can teach training and obedience essentials like basic commands.

How to Socialize Dogs With Humans

  • Start by introducing your puppy to other humans in a comfortable environment. Your own home is ideal so that your dog is not overwhelmed by new people and a new environment at the same time. Start with family members or other people that your dog already feels relaxed around. Get your dog used to calmly going up to someone with words of encouragement like, “Go say hello to dad!” Keep repeating this exercise and be sure to reward your dog with a treat when they obey. However, don’t reward actions such as jumping up on other people, barking, or any other undesirable behavior. 
  • Keep your dog on a leash. You never know how they’re going to react, so better safe than sorry. Just keep in mind that whoever is holding the leash should be cool, calm, and collected as a dog will be able to pick up on any nervous energy. 
  • Keep an eye on your dog’s body language. Is your pup’s tail wagging? Is he/she looking for a good scratch behind the ears? Do you detect tension that’s coupled with growling or cowering? All of these are cues to how your hound is reacting to a specific human. If you notice they are fearful or aggressive, don’t push the interaction. Forcing a relationship is only going to backfire. 

How to Socialize an Aggressive Dog

There’s a difference between dog play and an aggressive dog. Tail wagging, bowing, rolling around, darting back and forth, and a relaxed mouth are normal signs of dog play, whereas stiffness, snarling, growling, snapping, and staring are all signs of hostility. Aggressiveness outside of play appears to be the same except you’re also dealing with aggression towards other humans or animals and the possibility of guarding toys or food. Dogs tend to be aggressive due to breed, genetics, a negative life experience, or a combination thereof. Socializing an aggressive dog is not easy, but it’s not impossible either. 

  • Understand your dog’s triggers. Is it other dogs? Men with beards? Loud children? If you know what sets your pup off, it can shed some light on the training/socialization department. It’s also important to recognize how aggressive they become when one of these triggers sets them off. 
  • Practice proper safety measures. This may mean you need to put up baby gates to sequester your pup to certain parts of the house — especially if the trigger is a baby, small child, or other pet. If outside elements such as your neighbors or other animals are an issue, put up some blinds or shades. 
  • Train your dog with a muzzle. You may feel that muzzling your dog is cruel, but the reality is that aggressive dogs bite — and owners aren’t safe in this case. 
  • Crate train your dog. Make a comfortable environment within a size-appropriate crate so that you can put away your four-legged friend when guests come over or as a method of “time out.” 
  • Don’t neglect your dog’s basic needs. This means activity, nutrition, enrichment (playtime), communication, and your love! 
  • Consider hiring a professional. Hiring a professional to help you train your aggressive dog does not mean you’re a failure as a pet parent. If anything, you’re helping your pup by improving its socialization skills in an expedited manner. 

How KONG Club Can Help Socialization

Playtime is crucial for the socialization process as it forms a bond of trust between you and your dog while keeping him/her healthy and active at the same time. KONG Club facilitates play between owners and pets as well as between other dogs. Membership includes access to 24/7 vet experts and pet coaches who will create Personalized Pet Plans for every stage in your pups life journey.