Socialization is a term most associate with dogs being around other dogs. That is one important aspect but socialization covers a much broader spectrum of social skills and introductions.
The key areas of socialization include, but are not limited to:
Interactions with people (Various ages, sizes, ethnicity, facial hair, apparel etc)
Interactions with dogs and other animals (cat, bird, rabbit, horse etc)
Interactions with household appliances (vacuum, blow drier, mop, broom etc)
Interactions with outdoor stimuli (skate boards/bikes, garbage trucks,loud noises etc)
We want them to feel comfortable with the various different stimuli that exists in their environment, which is much more complex and can be over-stimulating compared to their natural environment.
So, we have to teach them the skills they need to be calm, confident and accepting of the things that occur around them in our busy human world!
CRITICAL SOCIALIZATION PERIOD IS BIRTH TO 6 MONTHS OLD!
Of course, all positive and calm social activities are great! But, the earlier the better, as their mind is open to new things and they have the curiosity to explore and learn more easily.
After 6 months of age, of course it is still possible to help them get accustomed to society and all it's complexities, but it can be more challenging as they can become less accepting and can develop some unhealthy, negative or even fearful responses to these stimuli. Then we may be working against some negative reactions, "bad" habits and frustration.
Interactions with people:
We want our pups to meet, greet, smell, see and interact positively with all sorts of people at a young age. A wide variety is best!
People of all types, in many different scenarios such as:
Old, young, tall, large, with beards, different ethnicity, people in wheelchairs, on crutches, baseball hats, sunglasses, with umbrellas, on bikes or skate boards, sitting in vehicles, running, wearing a big jacket or gloves, a mask etc.
It is best to observe or "people watch" from a distance that we can keep our pups curious and looking at the people, but still able to focus on us for a moment to eat a treat now and then.
As we move closer to different people, be confident and calm. If our pup hesitates but you know the scenario is fine, encourage with a treat and continue to approach. When close, ask for a sit, give a treat. Then, move on to the next thing. This build curiosity, our pups will want to explore more this way.
Avoid allowing people to approach too closely our pups in training, especially if our pup is hesitant, nervous or overly excited. These are mindsets that will not allow the most ideal experience for our pups. If we can get our pup focused and in a sit/stay- that is best.
If they have some hesitations around specific people- have those people simply ignore the pup and instead toss a few treats toward them and walk away. Again, this creates curiosity, a desire to investigate. Eventually, our pup will want to be brave enough to sniff them, and maybe even get some pets while sitting!
It helps for the people we're learning around are using non-threatening body language. So, if they can sit on the floor sideways and avoid direct eye contact. They can ignore our pup and hand a treat when they come near. They should avoid trying to touch our pup on top of their head or reaching over them.
Practicing good polite manners helps too! Asking our pup to sit while people approach, and reminding if they get up. Asking the people to ignore and turn away if pup jumps up on them.
Interacting with dogs:
If your pup is under 6 months of age, you'll want to make sure their "puppy vaccines" are up to date and your vet gives you the OK to socialize with other dogs! If they are, you can skip down to the "How to properly introduce dogs to each other" section below.
It is vital that your pup receive the appropriate vaccines, as there are some highly contagious and dangerous pathogens always lurking around.
Ask your vet the soonest they would be ok with you bringing your pup to doggie daycare. Dog parks can be tricky, as it's an uncontrolled environment in which we don't know what types of dogs and people will be there or what contagious pathogens may be lurking in the grass, dirty, water or on shared toys. You can also ask if it's ok for you to do puppy play dates with dogs you trust, in your own enclosed yard or home, where there is no risk of other dogs bringing in potential illnesses.
Usually, your vet will want your pup to have received at least 2 "sets" of puppy vaccines, in the series of 3 sets. Usually, pups will get vaccinated at 8 weeks, 12 weeks and 16 weeks. They will receive 3 sets of Distemper/Parvo combo, Bordetella, and 1 Rabies vaccine at 16 weeks of age or older. Some vets may recommend other vaccines as well such as the Influenza, Corona or Lepto vaccines, and there are more. Discuss with them these options to see what would be best for your dogs life style..
How to introduce your dog to other dogs:
Keep all interactions as calm, positive and as brief as possible at first. A controlled environment is best, so our pups don't accidentally associate something random in the environment with whatever social skill we're introducing.