The first few months of a dog’s life are amazingly important in their development. This is when they learn how to interact with people and their environment. This socialization program was given to me years ago, and has been a proven success time and time again. While this is an “ideal” situation, not all of us have access to a farm or the woods, or maybe it’s winter time and the beach isn’t feasible. Try to implement as much of this as you can throughout this time frame. Be sure to expose your puppy to different people, sights, sounds, smells, etc., but be careful not to overdo him on any day. He needs rest and time to just be a puppy too! *Be sure to ensure the pup is safe at all times!*
Starting one week after you get your puppy (age 8 or 9 weeks), get him out one day a week to a new situation he has never seen before. This takes some planning, but is worth the effort.
8 WEEKS: A walk (off leash if possible) in a meadow or pasture with medium tall grass. Keep him with you by voice. Encourage him to climb over a little mound of dirt or a log. Praise his efforts to do something he has never done before. Walk just fast enough that he has to strain very slightly to keep up with you. At this age his desire to stay with you is very keen. Capitalize on that. The walk should take no more than 20 minutes.
9 WEEKS: Another walk, this time in the woods. He is in taller grass and weeds. He must occasionally climb over small logs (just big enough to be a challenge). He goes up the hill, down the hill, over the rocks, maybe down a small bank. The perfect setup is where he goes across a small creek. He gets wet up to the chest. He scrambles up the bank to follow you. He goes through a thick carpet of leaves that crunch when he walks. Encourage him all the way. Praise him for meeting the challenge. The walk takes about 20 minutes.
10 WEEKS: The same as age 9 weeks but a bit more difficult. Occasionally hide momentarily from him when he is distracted in the woods. Watch him. Does he notice you are missing? If he does, and starts to look for you, suddenly appear and praise profusely. If he doesn’t look for you, toss a pebble to make him notice you are missing. Then call him from your hiding place. When he starts to look for you, appear and praise him. This will teach him, as it is repeated time and time again, to watch you when you are out in the woods, instead of you having to constantly be watching where he is. This makes him take that responsibility of staying with you. Play this game over and over through many weeks until you cannot hide from him because he is always watching. This only works when started young.
11 WEEKS: Take him swimming. You hold him and wade out to knee deep water. Point him toward shore and gently let him go. Be sure he gets his head up and he heads for shore. Have someone on shore encouraging him in a positive way. Another way to approach this is to entice him into the water by going in yourself and encouraging him to follow. Do not throw him in! When you are through get him out and dry him off and go home. Don’t let him get chilled.
12 WEEKS: Take a trip to the farm. Let him see cows, horses, chickens and whatever else you can find. This time you can keep him on leash. Make sure he is safe from the animals and let him get close enough to sniff. This outing can take 20 or more minutes. You have a positive attitude about all this. Be nonchalant about it all, as if this is what every 12 week old pup does.
13 WEEKS: Take him on leash to town. Walk him on a main street with medium to light foot traffic. He sees and hears cars, trucks and heavy street traffic. He passes by many people walking bicycles, delivery men with hand trucks, etc. This should be a short outing about 10 minutes. Praise him lavishly for positive behavior. Be nonchalant and very encouraging. When you get back to the car, lay on the praise for his remarkable feats of courage.
14 WEEKS: A trip to the beach or some other special place he has never been. Perhaps a trip to the local grade school front lawn when all the children are pouring out. Let the kids stop and pet him. Let him see and be in the crowd.
15 WEEKS: Another trip to town.
16 WEEKS: Your pup’s major learning age of his entire life is now over. Hopefully you have given him a very wide range of experiences. If you have done all this faithfully you will have taught him the most important thing of all to learn and it will stay with him the rest of his life, enabling him to continue to learn throughout his lifetime.
17 to 21 WEEKS: This is a bad time to subject your pup to stress, such as plane trips, a stay at the vets, boarding kennel or any threatening situation. Many pups act very fearful at this age. This should be a quiet time in their lives.