When we talk about socialisation it means a couple of things. It means the period of development that the puppy is going though, and it also means exposing and allowing your puppy and dog to get used to new objects, situations and people. While the period of developmental socialisation is usually over by the time your puppy is 5 months old, socialisation should continue until they are at least three years of age.
In my experience I have noticed that puppies and dogs go through changes in their personality and behaviour for the first three years. Usually the first change comes at around 6 months, another at 18 months and then another at around three years of age, and these changes are not always good. Think about your current or past dogs, and what they were like in their first few months, compared to middle age. You can probably identify shifts in their personality. If there were behavioural problems, you may even be able to recognise when they started and how they became worse.
Because of these personality changes, continued socialisation is vital for the first three years of your dogs life. During these personality shifts your dog may become anxious in situations they were otherwise fine in previously. Do not dismiss this change, this is your time to socialise, even if your dog is older. When your dog gives signals of anxiety in a situation recognise it as a sign to do something about it. Exposing them to the issue at this low anxiety level, and building their confidence, with lots of positive reinforcement and little pressure can do wonders for stopping a little problem before it becomes a big one. This is the essence of socialisation and why it needs to continue for your dogs first few years.
Many dog owners realise the importance of socialising puppies early and enrol their puppy in to puppy school for a four, or even, 12 week program. While this is a step in the right direction, it is not nearly enough. Your puppy’s’ education needs to continue for the first three years of their life if you want an adaptive, happy, adult dog. After puppy school, continue your training either by practicing the things you learned in puppy school yourself, in lots of different situations, or by joining a club that uses food/toy reinforcement training.
Think about all of the things that your dog will be exposed to in their life and continue to find the time to work on these situations with your dog by making them fun and meaningful (in a positive way) to your dog. For example, if you mainly walk your dog off lead (good on you) don’t forget to do some on lead walks and on lead greeting of people and dogs. There will come a time where you will need to have your dog on lead and you need them to be familiar with on lead greetings. We all know that practice makes perfect and the more situations your dog is practiced in the more adaptable they will be- then you really will have a dog that will fit in with your lifestyle.
If you take the time for the first few years and recognise and address little issues you will have the rest of your dogs life to enjoy. Have fun with this, take your dog to all sorts of places with you, this alone will help immensely and it is what having a dog is all about- my dog is my co-pilot.