At what age should a puppy start socialising?
What are the best ways to socialise my dog, to make it friendly with other animals and all sorts of people, from children to the elderly?
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Puppies should be socialized as early as possible. A neat thing about puppies is that, when they are younger than roughly 5 months, most other dogs will tolerate a lot more of the behavior which characterizes puppies (overly excited and playful, sometimes rude). This is because dogs tend to sexually mature around 5-6 months.
If you know of other dogs who are older, and who are well-adjusted and you trust them, I would let your dog just be herself around the older ones. The older dogs will correct your puppy if it does something rude or out-of-line, and your pup will "naturally" learn what is and isn't acceptable behavior.
If you don't have access to older dogs like that, a dog park isn't a bad place to start. But beware that people tend to bring their dogs to dog parks without fully knowing how their dog will react. Just a few weeks ago, a friend's 8-month-old pup was viciously attacked by a 2-year-old dog, and the owner's comment was "we're trying to socialize him".
In order for your puppy to grow up to be adept at socialization - both with dogs and humans - it is crucial to expose her as a young pup to many different dogs and humans, in many different situations. Doing so every day isn't out of the ordinary. And as always (especially with puppies), set your dog up for success: don't put her in dangerous situations, or in unknown environments with too many strangers at once. Simply start slow, keep things interesting and fun, and be sure to work on socialization early and often.
Ideally, you should start socialising a puppy in 3-17 weeks. But practically one can't do so. I, personally gave my puppy time to be adjusted to our house as well as our surrounding environment. Now you can start socializing him by the following steps:
Use a collar to get a hold of your puppy and take him for outing. Make him accustomed to the paths, streets and the locality around your house.
IMO it wouldn't be a good idea to let him introduce with a new dog on the very first day. He can get mixed up with all the new things.
Keep your puppy out of children if he does not like them.
Don't meet with unknown strange dogs.
You can meet with a person of your acquaintance and invite him to meet with you in a field with his dog.
When they both meet, 100% sure both of them will bark each other or the older one will bark at the younger one. If it is your dog who is barking, make him stop. If he does so, reward him.
If the other dog also stops, let the two meet and sniff each other. If all goes well, they might play with each-other (Highly unlikely it would happen on the very first day.) Keep them meeting.
If they don't stop barking at each other or lounge, leave the place and choose another dog the next day.
Many variants exists but one should look for classes where the puppies are allowed to play together in a safe area (in my canine club it is a fenced area next to the main training field).
The person in charge should find a balance between letting the puppies play alone and supervising them. If two puppies go to rough then one could intervene (distract them, or simply separating them).
It is also excellent when there is one/two calm and well behaved adult dogs that are willing to play with the puppies.
Try to make a plan in advance so that you're not tempted to skip a socialisation "training session" with a simple walk.
When my puppy was 2.5 to 3.5 months I did something really new for him twice a week: taking the bus/train/tram, going in the snow, seeing other animals (horses, etc.), etc.
If you bring your puppy to an unknown place and need a collar/leash, make sure you "trained" him before to be confortable with it. Same with going to the vet and taking the dog for a car trip.
Do not associate different potentially worrying experiences.