Just what does "properly socialized" mean when referring to a puppy or an adult? I've asked dozens of pet owners and breeders and the answer generally comes down to "getting the puppy out" to a lot of places. Only, you can't safely get very young unprotected puppies "out" to a lot of places and it's important for those critters to have exposure to the new and different parts of the world in order for them to develop into well adjusted adults. So, what to do???
Try these suggestions from us as breeders with a great long history with puppies and dogs.
The Rule of 7's
By the time a puppy is seven weeks old he/she should have:
1. Been on 7 different types of surfaces: carpet, concrete, wood, vinyl, grass, dirt, gravel, wood chips
2. Played with 7 different types of objects: big balls, small balls, soft fabric toys, fuzzy toys, squeaky toys, paper and cardboard items, metal items, sticks or hose pieces
3. Been in 7 different locations: front yard, back yard, basement, kitchen, car, garage, laundry room, bathroom
4. Met and played with 7 new people: include children and older adults, someone walking with a cane or stick, someone in a wheelchair or walker
5. Been exposed to 7 challenges: climb on a box, climb off a box, go through a tunnel, climb steps, go down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide and seek, in and out of a doorway with a step up or down, run around a fence
6. Eaten from 7 different containers; metal, plastic, cardboard, paper, china, pie plate, frying pan
7. Eaten in 7 different locations: crate, yard, kitchen, basement, laundry room, living room, bathroom
At our house, as soon as puppies are whelped we handle them to be sure they are healthy and happy. We do daily weight checks early on and cuddle them a little so that we are familiar to them when they open their eyes and ears and can finally connect those smells with a person. A breeder I know daily turns each puppy over several times in her hands (head over heels). One noted animal behaviorist finds that this makes animals brighter and quicker learners. After the eyes and ears open, we increase the noise level and add new sounds to get them used to the loud world out there.
Depending on the litter (and some are ready earlier than others) we begin to take individual puppies out of the puppy room away from mom and litter mates for some one-on-one every day after the eyes and ears are open. (My husband does this during the day and in the evening when he watches TV - he gets a new puppy during the commercials). It's very important for each puppy to have time away from "the family" to help them develop as individuals and not be co-dependent.
When the weather permits, our puppies go out in the grass at 4 - 5 weeks of age (a lot depends on the litter as to when they are ready). We sit on the ground with the puppies on our laps and let them leave when ready to explore. We create "problems" for the puppies to solve (climbing over a low box to get out of or into the whelping box - walking into a narrow box to get a toy or treat). If you can, build a "mini agility course" for the puppies - or buy one of the toddler's prefab plastic play gyms (I like the one made by "2-Step" - it has stairs, a slide, a platform and a little house to play in). Walking through the hardware store you can come up with a lot of great "mind and body" teasers. Don't forget to change the toys in the X-pen or kennel often to keep interest up.
Keep the challenges coming and when they have completed their inoculations and are "protected" step up the visits to new places and interactions with people. Trips to the park offer many new experiences (the gym equipment as well as the kids). Watch out for other dogs, though. You don't want all of your work to go down the tubes because one big dog frightened your puppy.
Remember, Tired Puppies Sleep -- they aren't looking around for things to chew and they don't need to be entertained!