What is Puppy Socialization?
The term “socialization” has several definitions depending on whom you are taking to and what that person’s background is.
When dog owners speak about “socialization,” they generally mean they want their puppy to get along with people and other dogs.
Dog trainers along with some certified animal behaviorists and veterinary behaviorists have a different definition of socialization which encompasses exposure to different people, animals, locations, and stimuli including all the five senses.
The definition of “socialization” for animal behaviorists is how an animal learns to interact socially with animals of its own species.
“Socializing” is animal to animal, two living beings. However, in the realm of dogdom, the terms “socializing” and “habituating” have been lumped together under the term “socialization” for such a long time that it’s difficult for many of us to separate them now – we are using the terms colloquially even though our use is technically incorrect. I think where the overlap stemmed from is that Scott and Fuller said that three to twelve weeks is a critical socialization period. They were talking about puppy socialization and dogs.
Later research was done on whether habituation to the environment needed to occur during the same period. In several subsequent articles by many authors, both the terms of “socialization” and “habituation” were used separately. At some point, the terms seemed to have morphed together so that “socialization” included habituation (which is another term having several meanings depending on the source; but for our purposes here, it means getting used to something).
To further muddy the waters, many people confuse “socialization” with “behavior modification.” The time for socialization is the introduction such as meeting another dog, seeing a person with a beard, etc. happens while he is a puppy with emphasis on before the onset of the fear period. Behavior modification is his learning to adapt after this time.
We are going to marry the technical with the colloquial. Here, puppy socialization means a puppy’s being comfortable around anything new before he is 16 weeks old – including humans, other animals, and the sights, smells, sounds, and locations of everyday life – and, yes, that does lump together “socialization” and “habituating.”
This was an excerpt from my book Puppy Socialization – An Insider’s Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness. There are hundreds of suggestions on puppy socialization both for the breeder and the pet parent.