The title of this post is not an exaggeration. The vast majority of dogs that end up in shelters are adolescent dogs, whose behaviors were manageable as a puppy, but became major issues as the dog got bigger and harder to handle. Many fearful or nervous dogs were likely not properly socialized as young puppies. They can sometimes be rehabilitated, but it is a long and difficult process.
The socialization window is much smaller than people realize. A puppy’s window to experience new things and absorb and deal with them closes by about 16 weeks. That’s 4 months, which means you have about 2 months to expose your puppy to anything and everything. Note, proper socialization means that you avoid stressful or overwhelming situations. Interactive experiences with humans should be positive, mild and gentle. Let the puppy explore new things at their own pace.
You should socialize every day, but don’t overdo it. Case in point, I had to take Bane back to the vet a couple of days ago because he was having some diarrhea. He also needed a bath, which the vet’s office was going to provide. He ended up being there most of the day, and then we went immediately to have a play date with a 4-month old flat coated retriever. He was definitely overwhelmed, in part from the exuberance of the flattie’s play style, but more so because he had already had a vet examination, a bath, and was likely exposed to quite a few staff members at the vet’s office, who all wanted to cuddle with him. In sum, I made the wrong choice. I should have rescheduled the play session for another day to make sure it would be a positive experience for him. In the end, he still had a good time, but there’s no reason to unnecessarily overdo it.
Here you can fill out a form to provide you with a wonderful checklist that I highly recommend that you use. It categorizes new experiences such as sounds, unfamiliar people, and handling. I will be working my way through it and provide an update on Bane’s progress in a couple of weeks.