Upon bringing a new puppy home, puppy owners may feel overwhelmed by a variety of tasks to teach their puppies. Among many things, the puppy will need to learn to sleep in a crate, develop good household manners, gauge his bite pressure and walk on a leash. Yet, new puppy owners often fail to realize that there’s an even more important and urgent priority they should focus all their energy on. The most crucial life lessons of all are taught through a brief, critical phase during which puppy socialization should take place.
Why Is It So Important?
Puppy socialization in itself wouldn’t really be that urgent if it wasn’t for the fact that time is ticking as there are tight developmental deadlines to keep in mind. The deadline for socialization closes when the puppy turns 12 weeks old. Ian Dunbar in his booklet “After you Get Your Puppy” highly recommends that puppies meet at least 100 people before they’re 3 months old. That’s an average of 25 people per week, which is about 4 people a day!
Why is it so important to socialize puppies? Puppies that are well socialized tend to flourish into wonderful, well-adjusted companions. Lack of socialization, on the other hand, potentially causes puppies to grow shy, fearful and even aggressive as they mature. Learning how to properly socialize a puppy goes a long way to creating indelible, long-lasting impressions that will have a positive impact on the puppy’s mind and future interactions.
An Guide to Socializing Your Puppy
Your primary goal is to teach your puppy through positive experiences that human companionship is highly enjoyable. Your puppy must learn to accept people of different sex, ages and ethnic backgrounds. Men, women, babies, toddlers, children, teens, the elderly and the disabled should all be included in your checklist. Also, different types of clothing and accessories that change the shape of people when worn or used such as hats, walking canes, wheel-chairs and bikes should be introduced as well.
A good way to start is by inviting people to your home at least twice a week or by taking your puppy to your work office if it’s permitted. Feed your puppy tasty food morsels when he sees people and interacts with them. Make being pet, touched and handled a very enjoyable experience for your pup! This will help him be more compliant even at the groomer or vet’s office. Place a particular emphasis in creating great associations with children and men since several dogs seem to be more likely to develop fear of men and children.
At times, the socialization may not go as well as hoped. The puppy may act fearful towards people. What to do in such a case? It’s not a good idea to just assume he’ll get over it as he most likely won’t. Forcing the interaction and putting the puppy in an overwhelming situation won’t help either. Yet, at the same time, you don’t want to skip exposing him to that particular person or experience or he’ll miss out on important socialization!
In such a case, it’s not a bad idea to invite people over and have them exclusively feed your puppy his meals. Meal after meal, the puppy will start loving guests, and he may start voluntarily approaching them when he sees them in anticipation for his meals. As the puppy’s emotions towards people change and his confidence is boosted, guests may also start asking the puppy to come when called and to sit before the food bowl is put down.
Socialization With Other Dogs
Socialization towards humans is a top priority, but dogs and other animals should be introduced as well. Hopefully, the breeder should have already introduced the puppies from a young age to other dogs and other types of pets. Puppy classes are a great way for puppies to meet other puppies and continue learning through play how to refine the pressure of their jaws. Many well-run puppy classes also further get puppies used to meeting new people and exposing them to unusual sights and sounds so they can encounter as many life experiences as possible; a win-win situation for all!
Warning: puppies are very vulnerable to infective diseases such as parvo when they are young as their immune system is still developing. It’s risky business to take a puppy to dog parks or other areas commonly frequented by other dogs when the puppy hasn’t finished his vaccination series and the vet has deemed it safe for the puppy to do so. Yet, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that puppies should receive socialization before they are fully vaccinated by taking advantage of every safe opportunity that presents such as enrolling in puppy classes where the risks of illness can be minimized. If you are considering puppy classes, ask about the recommended age to attend, the puppy vaccination policies and precautions taken to minimize disease.
Other Forms of Socialization
People, dogs and other animals aren’t the only things tor puppy should be exposed to. Different sights, sounds, places, surfaces are all very important. Ideally, the breeder should have exposed the puppy to a few stimuli commonly found in households such as the noise of the dish washer, the sight of the vacuum, the door bell children and other pets they may encounter in the their permanent home. Depending on where you live, you may wish to expose your puppy to trucks, the noise of the train or the presence of cows mooing in a field. It’s certainly challenging to expose a puppy to so many things within such a short period of time, but it’s a well worth investment!
As with socialization with humans, a time may come where the puppy may be fearful of a noise or sight. This is quite normal. A big truck passing by or an oaring vacuum are scary things for a small, inexperienced puppy! In such a case, it’s best to desensitize the puppy by presenting the stimulus in a less threatening manner. For instance, let the puppy see a truck from a distance and feed him tasty treats the moment he spots it or present the vacuum when it’s off.
The Bottom Line
Socializing your puppy is a part of proper dog training. The implementation of adequate socialization during the puppy’s first 3 months of life is crucial and goes a long way in preventing future behavioral problems. However, it’s important to recognize that ongoing socialization should continue throughout the rest of the puppy’s life to ensure he remains a happy, well-adjusted dog that is pleasure to be around.