How does socialization & environmental training work?
Once the puppy has settled into its new home and learned who is part of the new family, it is time to start socializing and environmental training the puppy. This is among the most important things you do with your puppy, with most puppies you can start about a week after you bring the puppy home.
It is important that you do not wait too long as the so called "socialisation window" closes at aboutAfter that, it is more difficult for the puppy to bond with and learn to trust new people.
What is the difference between socialisation and environmental training?
By socialisation we mean that the puppy should become accustomed and comfortable around people and animals, environmental training instead refers to the puppy becoming accustomed to all smells, sounds, surfaces and more.
Active and passive training
Taking the puppy to sit on an outdoor patio and watch people can be classified as both environmental training (because it is a new environment with new smells and sounds) and socialisation (because the puppy gets to see many new people pass by), but passive in both cases.
Active socialisation is instead about letting the dog greet new people: children, old people, someone walking with a crutch or in a wheelchair etc. and active environmental training is about seeking out new environments such as different surfaces/ statues/ riding a bus/ listening to traffic and noise or similar.
Take your puppy into different dog friendly shops and let them smell all the fun stuff. Go to the vet and eat some treats in the waiting room, maybe say hello to the receptionist or some nurse, maybe they'll even take a quick look at the puppy's teeth and then you reward them. It will make it easier for your dog when it then needs veterinary care.
The important thing to remember is that the puppy should never be forced into an appointment or into an environment. If you do, it will have the opposite effect and produce bad memories which then often stick very hard and are difficult to train away. Instead, make sure the puppy has a choice to walk away if it needs to. Start with simple environments and then work your way closer to what seems to be difficult for your puppy. Adapt the training to what your puppy is already comfortable with: a puppy who lives in the country may find being in the centre/city hard work, while a puppy who lives in the city may find the country/woods worryingly quiet.
Socialization with people
The best way to greet an unfamiliar dog is to turn your side towards the dog and let it approach at its own pace. If your puppy is a confident individual who just throws himself at new people, you won't have to think so much about how the person in question is behaving, but will have to work more on slowing the puppy down physically.
If your puppy is cautious and may not really dare to go forward, it will be very important that you tell the person who wants to gothat they must not pat from above and on the head as this is much harder on the dog, but that they should pat from below/on the dog's side. Maybe they shouldn't pet at all but just give some treats (which you have given the person).
With puppies, people like to bend down or sit down because they want a closer contact but for a shy dog it can be too intense an encounter.
Don't let strangers lift your puppy. This happens more often with small breed puppies but there's no reason they should do it. Handle training is overseen by people you trust to do what you want.
Don't be afraid to say no or to steer the meeting when someone asks if they can visit your puppy if, for example, the puppy is too scared or too tired or you just don't feel like it at the time. Your puppy is not public property and you have an obligation to make sure it has a positive image of people and must show it that you are in control of the situation. Otherwise, the puppy will have to speak up and it will do so by barking and, in the worst case, nipping. Greetings are best done one person at a time. For example, if you are doing environmental training outside a school/playground, it is easy for several children to come up and want to greet you. Ask them to stand a few metres apart so that your puppy can greet each one in peace and quiet instead of being buried in a crowd of children.
Let your dog meet other dogs
When it comes to socialising with other dogs, the same applies there: greet one dog at a time, make sure it's a friendly and safe dog before you let it greet you and keep the meeting short. In encounters with stable adult dogs, your dog will learn lots about how to behave, what signals are important to respect and so on and your dog will find other dogs fun. On the other hand, if your puppy is chased/pressured by unknown dogs, you will most likely end up with a dog that does not like other dogs, perhaps for the rest of its life.
Always ask the owner if the dog is kind to puppies, but more importantly, practice reading dogs' signals and body language so that you can form your own opinion. If you are unsure if the meeting will be a good one, say no. There will be more dogs to greet.
Dogs generally behave better when loose, but in too large an area, you can't intervene if necessary. And you SHOULD intervene when your puppy seeks support from you. Keep the other dog away or ask the owner to remove their dog. The old expression "let the dogs sort it out" is totally outdated and, as I said, can leave your puppy but for life in the worst case.
If your dog gets scared, it is also important that you don't pity it, but that you stay calm and reassured and make sure that you have a similar but less frightening situation in the near future so that you can turn the experience into something positive for the puppy.