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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.