Every German Shepherd has the potential to be a good boy or girl. First, however, they have to be socialized. The process of socialization allows your pup to be a safe and enjoyable part of society. Properly socializing your dog will ensure that they are able to get along with a wide variety of people and animals.
Of course, if this is your first attempt at this form of training, it can be rather daunting. Fortunately for you, however, you can find all the guidelines, tips, and tricks in the following article. So, without further ado, here is what you need to know about this process.
The Importance of Socializing Your GSD
In general, it is vital that you socialize all breeds. Nevertheless, some of the natural tendencies of German Shepherds make it more important for you to socialize them.
This breed is prone to aloofness and suspicious behavior, particularly when it comes to strangers and unfamiliar environments. If these tendencies go unchecked, you may end up with a German Shepherd who displays aggression at new people, animals, and situations.
Intercede at an early stage, though, and you can ensure that these inclinations don’t take root. Instead, you can make certain that your pup ends up being friendly and comfortable in a wide variety of environments.
Furthermore, if you want your German Shepherd to function as an emotional support animal and want to learn how to get an ESA letter, socialization is an important step in the process. After all, you are unlikely to receive any kind of accreditation if you can’t guarantee that your dog can function in public. It is only with proper training and exposure that your dog will be able to develop social skills to behave as required.
When Should You Begin Socializing Your Dog?
Most experts agree that the key period for socializing your puppy is between 2 to 12 weeks. Being exposed to enough new people and stimuli during this time will set the stage for future socialization tactics. As a result, your puppy will have an easier time adjusting to new experiences.
Of course, if you are buying a puppy from a breeder, you will only be able to take them home when they are around 7 to 8 weeks old. This is why it is so important to choose a puppy from a responsible and respectable breeder. A good breeder will have already set the socialization process in motion, ensuring that you can pick up where they left off.
Taking It Easy When First Bringing Your Puppy Home
When you first bring your puppy home, you are introducing them to a new environment. Due to this, you should take the socialization process a bit more slowly for the first few days. Let them familiarize themselves with your home and get comfortable.
Once it seems like your puppy has settled down, you can then ramp up the socialization once more.
Puppy Socialization and Vaccinations
Now, there has been a great deal of debate about puppy socialization and whether it should take place before after a full vaccination course.
For the longest time, people have argued that puppies should wait until all their vaccinations are completed before beginning the process. This is because diseases such as parvovirus and distemper can be debilitating and even fatal.
The issue is that most vaccination courses end at the 16-week mark for puppies. And, as mentioned, this is well outside the critical period for socialization. So, what should you do?
Well, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior did take a position on this. These experts claim that you should socialize your dog before the immunization series has been completed. However, your puppy should have received at least one round of vaccinations before interacting with other dogs.
If you are planning on enrolling your dog in a puppy socialization course, make sure that they have received their vaccinations at least one week before the start of class. This is a standard requirement for most classes. It is also a good idea to carefully consider the environment that your dog will be in. The space should be clean and separate from older dogs.
If you are nervous about exposing your puppy to other dogs without the appropriate vaccinations, focus on socializing them at home. Still, make sure that they see and interact with other dogs at a distance during this period.
What You Should Know Before Training
Before you begin socializing your German Shepherd, there are a few things that you should be aware of first:
Every Dog is Different
In general, the German Shepherd breed is considered to be confident, courageous, kid-friendly, and has a potential for playfulness.
However, every pup is different. This means that there is potential for your German Shepherd to be shy, wary, and even fearful of certain situations. Thus, you should always consider your dog’s personality and characteristics when training them. What may work for one dog may not be suitable for another.
If you find that a particular tactic isn’t working, don’t be afraid to try a different technique. Think about what your dog responds to best and work with that.
The Two Fear Periods
German Shepherds are likely to experience two separate sensitive periods during their lifetime. One will typically take place during the 9 to 12-week mark. The other may crop up around the 6 to 12-month point.
So, what are these sensitive periods and how can they impact socialization?
Well, during these periods, your puppy becomes more sensitive to various stimuli. Thus, they are more likely to be negatively affected by any kind of trauma or adverse event. So, if they do undergo or experience unpleasantness, they are more likely to have a negative response to it from then on.
The key to getting through these periods is constant positive reinforcement. If you notice that your puppy or adult dog is beginning to exhibit signs of fear or aggression towards stimuli, find ways to reduce their discomfort.
Then, work on providing positive reinforcement in such situations so that your dog will continue to have a pleasant outlook regarding that event. Of course, it is a good idea to limit their exposure to negative interactions to prevent them from developing any issues in the future.
A Socialization Checklist for GSD Puppies
Now, let’s take a look at the socialization checklist that you need to follow. This list will show you exactly what you need to get your puppy used to for them to be considered fully socialized.
It is a good idea to print it out and check each item off as you complete it. Consider keeping a puppy socialization journal. Make notes of any kind of behavior or reaction that you noticed. This could help you with the next leg of the process.
Exposure to Different Types of People
- Teens and Adults
- Senior Citizens
- Men and women
- People of different races and ethnicities
- People wearing eyeglasses and sunglasses
- People wearing different kinds of clothes
- People in uniforms – postman, policemen, etc.
- People with canes, walkers, wheelchairs, etc.
Exposure to People Conducting Various Activities
- Throwing and catching balls
- Kneeling down to do gardening
- Standing on chairs or ladders
- Pushing brooms
- Carrying bags and boxes
- Using tools
- Doing activities like yoga
Exposure to Animals
- Other dogs/dogs that look different to your pup
- Any other animal your dog may come into contact with
Puppy Exposure to Things That Move
- Running Kids
- Fire Engines
- Running Animals
Exposure to New Places
- Your car
- Veterinarian’s office
- Shopping areas
- Sidewalks with cars going by
- Areas where you might walk or hike or vacation
- Other people’s houses
- Pet stores
- Blow dryers
- Kitchen appliances
- Walk-sign beeps
- Trucks backing up
- Neighbors in their yards
- Kids yelling
- Babies crying
- Wind and thunder noises
Exposure to Different Surfaces
- Shiny floors
- Wet surfaces outside
- The bathtub
Exposure to Handling
- Touching for vet visits
- Patting heads
- Invasive interactions, such as people invading their space, taking things from them, hugging them without warning, and getting into their food
The Socialization Schedule
Here is a breakdown of the schedule that you can follow when socializing your puppy:
0 – 3 Weeks
- Puppies will stay with their mother.
- They should be allowed to meet, smell, and interact with people.
3 – 6 Weeks
- Still with their mother, puppies should continue to meet various people.
- At this point, they should also be exposed to and getting used to regular household noises (washing machines, radio, TV, vacuum cleaner, etc.)
- Puppies should be handled during the grooming process. They will need to get used to having eyes, ears, paws, nails, etc. being examined and cleaned.
6 – 8 Weeks
- Puppies can be introduced to smaller or younger children.
- They can interact with other adult dogs who are healthy and have been vaccinated.
This is the age that most puppies go to their forever homes.
- Allow the puppy to meet everyone in your family as well as the neighbors.
- Expose dogs to usual household noises
- Allow them to meet babies
- Let them play with people and children
- Get them used to sound effects like cars honking or fireworks (you can use videos or recordings)
- Allow them to walk on various surfaces
- Teach your puppy basic obedience skills that can be used in future socialization attempts.
- Get them used to being alone – start with shorter intervals and then gradually extend this time.
- Introduce them to a collar and a lead and take them on walks around your house.
- Continue to get them to meet new people.
- Take your puppy in your car to get used them used to the experience. Don’t only visit the vet.
- Your puppy’s second set of vaccinations will be due. Ask your vet if it is alright for your puppy to begin meeting other dogs.
- Allow them to get used to different kinds of people in the neighborhood.
- If you have the all-clear from your vet, you can begin to slowly introduce your puppy to other puppies or older dogs.
- Visit dog parks.
- Go to public areas such as local markets, public transport areas, etc.
15 Weeks Onwards
Continue your socialization efforts until your dog is at least a year old. Some German Shepherds may even need to be socialized for longer – up to two years in some cases.
Make sure to focus on maximizing the positive experiences and minimizing the bad ones.
Improving Positive Interactions Between Your German Shepherd and New People
When introducing your puppy to new people, make sure to do so carefully and slowly.
Tell people to avoid body language that can be intimidating or scary to a German Shepherd. This includes:
- Making eye contact
- Placing above their head
- Crouching down to their level
- Putting their face close to the dog’s
- Leaning over their back
Instead, ask the person not to stand too close and to look slightly away. Let your dog approach the person – tell the individual not to pet the dog right away. If you feel like it, you can hand the person a treat to make your German Shepherd more comfortable.
If your dog responds with stress, anxiety, or fright, don’t force them to meet anyone. Don’t reward or coddle your dog either. Instead, simply move them away from the person and allow them to calm down.
Introducing Your German Shepherd to Other Dogs
Always introduce two dogs in a neutral zone such as on the pavement or in a dog park. This way, they will not feel the need to be territorial.
You should be careful about who you are introducing your puppy to. Make sure that the other dog is well-trained and is sociable. This can greatly increase the chances of more positive interaction.
Also, don’t walk the dogs up to each other immediately. Instead, allow the dogs to be in the same area, but not necessarily interacting with one another. This lets your dog get comfortable with the idea of having another dog nearby.
Ensure that the dogs slowly approach each other. Since you can’t be certain of how either dog will react, keep a good grip on the leash. Check that the other dog is being held tightly as well. Pay attention to body language, growling, etc. If there any signs of fear or aggression, move the dogs apart.
Even if the dogs do appear to be getting along, keep an eye on the interaction. In particular, watch out for aggression or dominance from either party. If you find that your puppy is being bullied, remove him or her from that situation.
If you find that your pup is displaying dominance or aggression, you need to intervene as well. Tell them “no”. Take your puppy away from the situation and reintroduce them a short while later. Continue to watch them during their interactions.
Can Adult Dogs Be Socialized?
There is no denying that socializing a puppy is a far easier task. However, if you are adopting an older dog, then this is not an option for you. So, under these circumstances, is it possible to socialize a dog well past its ideal socialization period?
It is. The process is trickier and can take a longer period. With enough time and patience, though, you can make an older dog more comfortable in all kinds of environments.
The socialization process will begin with teaching your dog appropriate cues. These include:
- Find It
- Leave It
These cues will help you to redirect your dog’s attention when they are around unfamiliar people or dogs.
It is also important to ensure that your dog receives positive reinforcement every step of the way. Thus, in the beginning, they should even be rewarded for simply being in the presence of new people or dogs. When you first start the process, keep exposure periods to around 15 minutes at a time or even less. You can gradually increase this period over time.
You should also only ever move at a rate that is suitable for your dog. So, if you notice any signs of discomfort, fear, or aggression, this could mean that you are moving too fast. Slow down and find a timetable that is more suitable for your dog.
In some cases, you may need to get the help of a professional trainer or a dog behaviorist. This is something you should consider if your dog is showing excessive amounts of fear or aggression towards people, vet visits, and other dogs.
These are the top tips, guidelines, and tricks that you need to know when socializing your German Shepherd. Keep in mind that this is a continuous process. As such, you will have to keep exposing and allowing your dog to adjust to all kinds of new situations.
While this can require hard work and patience, your effort will certainly pay off. At the end of the training, you will have a wonderfully behaved dog who is an absolute delight to everyone.