Expose Your Puppy to These 45 Things Before They Turn 2
Puppies are a big responsibility, and raising them right takes time. Dogs are not always naturally social, and even those bred for good temperaments still need proper socialization to ensure that good temperament stays.
Puppies go through two fear periods — times when they will appear more unsure of the world and may react to things they never reacted to before — before they reach 2 years old. The first one usually starts between eight to 11 weeks, and the other happens somewhere between six and 14 months — however, for some slow-developing breeds, it may be later.
It’s crucial your puppy be exposed to things during these times in a positive way so that they do not stay fearful for the rest of their life. Here are 45 things to expose your puppy to before they are 2 years old.
Even if you don’t plan on having your indoor dog wear a collar 24/7, it’s important to get your puppy used to the feel of a collar. Make sure it’s tight enough they can’t get their jaw around it to chew on it or get stuck but loose enough to fit a couple of fingers through.
Work on them sitting while getting the collar on and off. Some puppies won’t mind this a bit, others may need some counter conditioning — pairing with a reward — to be OK with being collared.
No one wants to be told they can’t go somewhere or have to go somewhere, and this definitely applies to curious puppies. So, it’s a good idea to get them used to a leash when they are young.
It is much easier to work on leash training with a 10- to 20-pound puppy than a 100-pound adolescent. Leash training should start as soon as you bring your puppy home.
If you plan on using a harness of any type on your dog, get them used to one as a puppy. Like the collar and lead, it’s something that’s very important to your dog’s education and your future happiness.
Be sure to select the right size and type of harness for your dog’s body shape, and again, if they are fearful, use counter conditioning to help them enjoy the harness.
No one wants to try and catch a dog, drag it into the tub and then fight with it for the 30 minutes it takes to wash them. Bathing is part of a dog’s life, so get them used to it when they are a puppy.
Peanut butter smeared on the wall of your tub can make bath time fun for any dog. Keep baths short and fun at first, in that you’re not really trying to clean your dog but train them.
Another of life’s necessities is nail trimming, so you'll want to get your puppy used to the strange feel and sound of the clippers as soon as you can. Dogs that bite, pull and struggle when it comes time for trims are no fun for the owner, vet or groomer.
You can set your dog up for a good life by making sure they are used to this essential task.
If you have a long-haired breed, getting them used to the sound and feel of clippers is also important.
Even if it’s a breed not commonly clipped — like a golden retriever — it’s good to get them used to the noise and feel in case you ever need to clip a mat out, clip to clean a wound, you get it.
All dogs need to go into the car at some point. Making trips fun by taking your dog to the drive-thru for a biscuit, the dog park or the pet store can help make them enjoy rides.
If your puppy gets car sick, try an anxiety wrap, like the Thunder Shirt; they really do help. Short rides around the block and/or to fun places are best while your puppy gets used to the ride.
There are so many times in your dog’s life when they may need to be confined that crate training is a must for all puppies. Starting them young makes it much easier on your puppy, and it helps with house training, including potting training and chewing.
Dogs that are crate trained are less stressed at the vets, groomers and in the car, too!
Umbrellas can be scary objects for dogs, and it’s something that dog owners who get their puppies in the summer sometimes forget about. Always have a reward handy when introducing something new to your puppy and start at a distance.
If they seem worried, let them have more space. If they are calm and/or move toward the object calm and confidently, then reward them.
People in Hats
Dogs are pretty good with faces and definitely notice things that are different.
For puppies that are on the reactive side or are timid, something as simple as a hat or a hood can make them wary of people, so definitely introduce them to this concept before they turn 2.
People With Beards
Again, something like facial hair is enough to set some reactive dogs off, especially if they are not used to it.
Get your dog used to seeing humans with different facial hair (and even bald heads!) to make them a well-adjusted adult dog.
People With Sunglasses
Sunglass pose a unique “threat” to some dogs because they cannot read your facial expressions as well or see your face … are you staring at me? So, many dogs react to them.
Get your dog used to seeing people in sunglass when they are a young puppy.
Some puppies seem to naturally just love kids — others not so much. Either way, your dog is going to encounter children throughout their life, so it’s best to get them used to kids now.
The more age ranges your puppy can experience the better, as they each have their own way of communicating, moving and interacting with your dog that will be different.
If you plan on taking your puppy to dog-friendly stores when they get older, getting them used to a shopping cart is important.
For big dogs, this includes walking next to one nicely. For little dogs, it might mean both walking next to and sitting inside one.
Another vehicle that many puppies are not sure about is the bicycle, but you can work with your puppy so they are not scared of one.
A herding breed puppy may want to chase it, which is actually another good thing to work on when they are young.
Anything with wheels that moves fast can scare a puppy, and skateboards are no exception. They can be quite loud when rolling, and a person is on them, which only dds to the weirdness.
Like bikes, herding breeds may want to chase them. Teaching your puppy to be calm around them will make walks more enjoyable.
A dog that’s never seen a wheelchair, or a person in one, can be unsure when one approaches. This is especially important if your puppy’s future includes therapy or service work.
But even if they just take walks in the park or go to your local pet store with you, it’s good for them to be OK around anything they may encounter throughout their life.
We’ve all known the dog that barks at the garbage truck, UPS driver or that tries to bolt when a pickup drives by. With so many dogs living the urban lifestyle, puppies should get used to loud and large vehicles.
Remember that their ears are much more sensitive than ours, so start far enough away, or use music or some other white noise to muffle the sounds at first while your puppy is getting used to the loud and scary sounds.
The vacuum is the mortal enemy of many dogs. They are loud; they move around weirdly; they suck things up — they're just weird to a dog.
Give your puppy something to distract them, like a stuffed Kong or a chew, when the vacuum comes out, and you’ll have the one dog on the block that gets happy to see the dreaded machine.
Brooms often get the same reaction as the vacuum, so it’s another thing that’s good to expose a puppy to early on.
Again, bring out a stuffed Kong or some type of chew, and let your puppy enjoy it while you sweep.
If you plan on having your dog cohabitate with cats or you don’t want them pulling the leash every time they see a stray on a walk, introduce them as a puppy.
When they are young is the time to get them used to being calm around cats (or other animals!).
Proper socialization is key for puppies. Dogs are not born social butterflies — remember, we don’t want to greet every person we see on the street, and neither does your dog.
However, a puppy will have a much better life if its socialized so it doesn’t react to every dog it sees.
Different Walking Surfaces
This is something people often don’t think about, but if you have a fully carpeted house, you may be surprised at how worried your young puppy gets the first time it’s asked to walk in a store. It’s also good for toughing up their paw pads and balance.
We’ve seen full-grown dogs that won’t walk over manhole covers on a cool day (so it wasn’t hot). Getting your pup used to all kinds of walking surfaces will make both of your lives better.
If you plan on taking your dog with you on errands to dog-friendly stores, start early. They can be in your arms or shopping cart until they have their shots, and then they should be walking and exploring.
Take them out often and to different stores. Keep those first visits short and positive.
It’s easy to leave the puppy at home, but don’t. Take them to the park, the kids' baseball game, on a short hike.
The more places your puppy goes where they have fun, the better dog they will become. Just remember to keep visits short and positive.
It can be embarrassing if your dog goes berserk when the Amazon guy arrives. It’s good to start teaching your puppy that when you say the cue, they lay down on their bed and wait quietly, regardless of who is coming up the walk.
Having a cue allows your dog to still do their job of protection — if that’s one of the reasons you got a puppy — but you can tell him when they are “off duty.”
Make sure people come over while your puppy is growing up. It can be hard when you are busy working, training your new puppy and raising kids, but that puppy needs to be used to things that happen regularly and irregularly, including people coming into the house.
Have your kids have friends over, and ask your own friends to come over for a visit to socialize your puppy. Having them bring over their dog for some positive dog socialization is good, too — just make sure they are puppy friendly!
Separation anxiety is a real issue for a lot of dogs. Make sure your puppy does not develop this by making them OK with being alone from the beginning. This can be a challenge if you work from home — so you may need to get creative.
Maybe they go in their crate in another room with a chew for a while. Maybe you go visit a friend, see a movie and do grocery shopping on different days, so you leave more often than you normally would. If your puppy seems worried about it, make the trips short at first and gradually lengthen them.
Loud noises are a part of life — things like a pan dropping, your kid banging on toys, hammering, drilling, etc. Get your puppy used to all these kinds of noises when they are young, so they are a non-issue for the rest of their life.
Playing the tin-can game — empty tin cans in a pyramid with treats hiding underneath — can make loud noises fun for puppies: They knock them over and get rewarded!
Ladders, especially the big a-frame type, can be very scary for small dogs. Getting them used to these types of things and you standing on them will make your puppy well-adjusted as an adult.
Even if you are not doing any home improvement projects yet, you most likely will in the future. So, get out that ladder and pretend to do stuff while rewarding your puppy for calm behavior.
Obviously, your dog will visit the vet before they turn 2. It's helpful for them to stop by the vet's office now and again just to say hi, however.
By taking them to sniff out the office and get a treat when they don't have to get a vaccine or an uncomfortable exam, they won't be so fearful of going later on.
It's a good idea for dogs to get used to anyone who's going to be poking and prodding them. Visiting the groomer is one of the less enjoyable elements of being a dog, especially if they have long fur that's prone to tangling.
Developing a good relationship with the groomer as a puppy will make them more tolerant of the sounds of shears and the grooming process overall.
Ever gone for a jog only to have a stranger's dog lunge at you as you run by? It's usually harmless, but dogs often act on their instinct to chase anything moving — even people.
Take your dog to parks so they get used to all the goings on without reacting.
Admittedly, you're not going to be taking a dog to a rave any time soon. Outdoor concerts in the park, however, are a lovely family outing that your dog can be a part of if they can handle all the stimulation.
Dogs and fireworks are not a good match, period. Every Fourth of July, dogs get spooked and run off, ending up in shelters or worse.
While your dog should always be watched closely on nights when fireworks are likely, always kept on a leash or safely inside, it's good for them to hear them as a puppy. They may be less likely to get startled by them later on.
Chasing squirrels is a classic dog pastime. It's wise to break them of this habit early on, however.
If they chase every bird and chipmunk they see, there's a chance they'll run after one straight into a busy road.
Small pets like hamsters, gerbils, rats and guinea pigs should never be left alone with a dog, for obvious reasons. Certain breeds are likely to always see small pets as prey. Terriers, for example.
Others get so used to them that they will happily sit on the couch and snuggle without trying to eat them as a snack.
Most dogs know how to swim naturally, so give your pup a chance to test their sea legs. The beach is also a good place to practice basic obedience commands and take your game of fetch to a new level.
Meeting up with a dog buddy for a playdate is one thing. Going to a park filled to the brim with other dogs is a different story.
Well-rounded dogs are dogs that have been socialized with people and other dogs in various situations. Keep an eye out for signs that your dog is reaching its limit.
Short, positive experiences are better than ones that end in a stressful scuffle.
Some dogs don't pay any attention to fires, while others have a curious streak. Let your dog get close enough to realize, "Wow, that's hot!"
Otherwise, there's a chance they might try to grab that tasty looking stick right out from the middle of it.
If you're going to travel with your dog on a plane, get them started early. So they can get comfortable with the feeling of being inside an aircraft and leaving the ground.
Acceptable Chew Toys
You're a great dog owner, so you probably already picked up tons of toys for your puppy. Encouraging them to use chew toys helps avoid destructive behavior.
If they start chewing on chair legs, redirect them to a Kong toy filled with frozen peanut better to help the discomfort of teething and reinforce good habits.
Imagine someone dragging you to a strange-smelling office where a total stranger proceeds to poke and prod you. You wouldn't like it either. One way to make dogs more comfortable at the vet is by getting them used to having sensitive areas touched.
Having their paws, ears and bellies touched can take some getting used to. Reward them for letting you examine these areas with small treats so they'll be less touchy about it at the vet's office.
Opportunities to Practice Obedience Skills
It's wonderful if your dog comes when called and sits on command, but if they only do it at home, what's the point?
Give them practice following basic commands while in different settings, like at the park, the beach or on a walk.
That way, they'll be more likely to listen when it really counts.
Dogs can get out of shape just like people can. Even small dogs need regular exercise. Give them plenty of opportunities to run and play in addition to daily walks to keep them in tip-top shape.