Good socialisation for your puppy is like immunising them against future behaviour problems. A well socialisaed puppy will grow up to be a friendly, resilient older dog, one that you will be able to live with, without fear or worry. Socialisation must be carefully monitored in order to gain the full rewards.
Your puppy must start her socilisation regime as soon as you bring her home. Yes, there is a small risk of your puppy contracting a disease, but the risk of having a fearful, anxious and aggressive dog is far greater if you do not expose your puppy to the outside world in some consistent way during the first few weeks at home. Far more dogs are euthanised for poor social behaviour than die from contracting illnesses as puppies.
When you begin taking your puppy out you will inevitably come across another puppy or dog and knowing the difference between happy play and bullying will be important. The characteristics of positive play include, moments of activity and moments of pause, changing roles where neither dog becomes fixated on one behaviour, mouthing around the face and neck, rolling on the ground with roles being interchangeable, play bowing where one or both dogs bow on their front elbows to invite play, and some vocalisation.
When allowing your puppy to interact with other dogs you will need to cater to your puppy’s temperament. If you have a very shy or very outgoing puppy they are best suited to older dogs who will either ignore them or growl at them if they are becoming too boisterous. Shy puppies will not enjoy being chased or pestered by other young dogs, while outgoing puppies may act as bullies with other young puppies. When you arrive at the dog park always watch the dogs that are there already, watch how they interact and how closely their owners are supervising the play.
Understanding canine body language will help you become an advocate for your puppy’s needs during these times of intense socialisation. Subtle signs of anxiety include licking of lips, yawning, stiff body posture, shivering, wide eyes, inattentiveness, refusing food. Become an expert at recognising these signs in your dog and when they are likely to arise and move your dog away from the stressor. Do not wait for your dog to have to resort to more overt signs such as growling, teeth baring and/or biting.
Finally, puppy school can be a great way to begin the socialisation and training process but it is there only to compliment what you should be doing with your puppy everyday. Your puppy should be meeting (or at least seeing) new dogs, people and objects everyday from the day you bring her home.
Think of socialisation not just as a four week course but as something you will continue for the first three years of your dogs life, by which time they will have reached social maturity. It is intense but you will reap the rewards for years to come.