Properly socialize your ESA puppy

How to Properly Socialize Your Puppy

April 2021 Dogs

Have you ever seen a dog that wouldn't stop barking, cowered at loud noises, or lunged at anyone passing by? If so, chances are you witnessed a dog that wasn't properly socialized as a puppy.

During puppyhood, your puppy needs to be introduced to the world so that it can deem different people, noises, places, textures, and experiences as safe. Taking the time to socialize your emotional support dog properly early on can set them up for success later in life, especially since it's much harder to socialize an adult dog.

The Ideal Puppy Socialization Period

All puppies go through a phase known as a critical socialization period where they are more accepting of new things. This period must be handled properly when working with an emotional support animal, as they must be able to stay focused in any situation.

This critical socialization period starts around three weeks of age and ends between 12 and 16 weeks. There's no definitive start or beginning, as it differs depending on each dog. It's important to expose your emotional support dog to as many new experiences as possible during this window when their young—making sure they enjoy those things.

When you get an emotional support animal as a puppy, everyone talks about the importance of training. Keep in mind that socialization is on a very specific timeline and its something that can't be "trained" when your emotional support animal is an adult and socialization problems have already developed.

After the critical socialization window has closed, dogs are more closed off to new experiences.

Socializing Your Puppy Before Vaccinations

Many owners skip much-needed socialization step because their dogs aren't fully vaccinated until around 12 weeks—but if you wait until your puppy is vaccinated you will miss the critical socialization period!

Just because your emotional support dog isn't fully vaccinated yet doesn't mean there aren't ways for you to safely socialize. You can take your dog on errands to dog-friendly stores and carry them (if size permits) or push them in a cart. If you have a friend or family member with a fully-vaccinated dog, you can schedule a structured playdate. Local pet stores also host puppy socialization classes specifically for this purpose.

Why It Is Important to Socialize Your Emotional Support Dog as a Puppy

It's important to socialize your emotional support dog puppy

Well-socialized puppies can remain calm and relaxed when in new environments. This is because their exposure as a puppy allows them to be more comfortable in a variety of situations, so they're less likely to behave fearfully or aggressively when faced with an unfamiliar situation.

Without socialization as a puppy, your emotional support animal may lack confidence that causes them to be shy, timid, or aggressive. This is why it's extremely important for all dogs, especially emotional support animals, to have proper socialization when they're young—they need to be ready to successfully tackle any environment they find themselves in.

How to Socialize Your Puppy

It's important to socialize your emotional support animal during this period to ensure they're able to handle any situation, but don't overwhelm them with too much at once. They're still young and impressionable. Pay attention to their body language so you can expose them to new things as an intensity that they can remain calm and then up the ante gradually. Make sure to provide your emotional support animal with positive reinforcement so they can form strong positive associations.

To properly socialize your emotional support animal as a puppy, you should introduce them to the outside world every single day. But you need to make sure you are focusing on a variety of situations repeatedly, such as:

People

Socialize your emotional support dog puppy with other people
  • Children — As an emotional support dog, they'll be surrounded by people of all ages when in the field. Without proper exposure, dogs are often very unsure of children—especially younger children who don't understand boundaries. Their size and quick movements can be very startling to a young puppy.
  • Different Races — If your emotional support dog isn't exposed to people of a variety of races as a young puppy, they're more likely to show fear when interacting with someone who looks different than the owner.
  • Elderly People — Your puppy should be introduced to as many types of people as possible—both young and old—since as an emotional support animal they can be working with people of any age. Don't force anything they aren't comfortable with, but gradually introduce them with positive reinforcement.

Things

  • Vacuums — Noises can be extremely scary, especially when coming from a moving object. Introduce your puppy to the vacuum first while it's off, allowing them to get used to it in their environment before turning it on. When working with their handler, an emotional support animal can't be phased by different sounds that could distract them.
  • Cars — Riding in the car can be a very overwhelming experience for a young puppy because of the fast movement and noises. Take your puppy on regular rides through the neighborhood, while running errands, or visiting friends' houses. You want to make sure your puppy associates the car with a positive experience, not just the occasional drive to the vet.
  • Baths — Water can be daunting for a puppy, which is unfortunate since they're often getting themselves into messes that need cleaning up! Gently ease them into the water to bathe them, providing positive reinforcement when necessary.

Animals

  • Cats — Most puppies don't have many chances to interact with cats. When introducing them, be mindful that puppies are extremely playful and cats tend to be more independent.
  • Dogs — Introducing your emotional support dog to puppies dogs of all ages and sizes is essential to making sure they'll be able to play nicely with other dogs as they get older. Young dogs can get scared or intimidated easily, so introduce them to other dogs in a neutral territory where they feel safe.

Apart from the examples listed above, your puppy should also be exposed to noises (doorbells, blow dryers, fire trucks, etc.), different surfaces (carpet, hardwood, grass, mulch, etc.), and handling (touching their ears, paws, teeth, etc.). The more experiences you expose your puppy to during this critical socialization period, the less likely they are to become scared later on when in the role of an emotional support animal.

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