Socializing Your Puppy

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Goal of Socialization

To help your puppy get along well with others; to become a well behaved member of the community; and to be a confident and psychologically healthy dog.

Tools you will need

Just you and your dog and some yummy treats and fun toys.

Overview

There is an important developmental stage that occurs in all dogs between the ages of seven and sixteen weeks of age. This is the time when puppies learn (whether we teach them or not!) which things in life are good and which are not. Now commonly referred to as a critical socialization or developmental stage, this is a rare window of opportunity for us to teach puppies to become confident, psychologically healthy dogs. We do this by exposing them to the myriad of things they will encounter in their lives: people (young, old, different colors, male, female, with mustaches and beards, with eyeglasses, with hats, with mailbags), other animals (cats, dogs, horses), sights and sounds (trash trucks, blimps, fireworks, thunder, lawnmowers, weedwackers), etc.

Although weeks 7-16 are the most critical, it is important to continue to expose your pup to sights, sounds, animals, and people through the first year or two of her life. Otherwise, your pup may become fearful and timid, and suffer from unnecessary stress throughout his/her life.

Note: Many veterinarians recommend waiting until after all vaccines are given, often four months of age, to take your dog outside of your home. Talk with your veterinarian and your trainer to come up with a workable socialization plan that won’t put your pup at danger for infectious diseases, but one that will still adequately socialize your pup. For example, use good judgment: don’t go to dog parks (too many unknown dogs and feces); carry your pup to places where there are a lot of people (malls); and don’t let your pup around other dogs’ feces.

Step-by-Step Tips

Try to go on socialization outings two to three times a week or more. Hunt out things your pup hasn’t seen yet. Make a list (for an excellent socialization chart, see the appendix of Gwen Bailey’s “The Perfect Puppy,” listed under Recommended Reading), and take it with you to ensure you aren’t missing something that will become a problem when your pup gets older.

People

  • Adults (men, women, different sizes, shapes, colors, facial hair)
  • Crying babies
  • Toddlers
  • Young children
  • Teenagers
  • Delivery people
  • Postal service employees
  • Gardeners
  • People in uniform
  • People in wheelchairs
  • People walking with canes
  • People with umbrellas
  • People who are loud
  • People who are shy
  • People with big boots (see “Real Life Lesson” below)

Environment

  • Clanging and banging (things dropped, things banged/clanged)
  • Sirens
  • Trash trucks
  • Motorcycles
  • Balloons
  • Veterinary offices
  • Groomers
  • Boarding kennels
  • Shopping malls
  • Schools
  • Others’ homes
  • Dog shows

Animals

  • Other puppies
  • Adult dogs
  • Cats
  • Birds
  • Horses
  • Cattle
  • Any other animal you want them comfortable with

Of particular importance is to introduce your puppy to other puppies of different sizes, shapes, hair length, and age. Many dogs become afraid of other dogs simply because they have not had the opportunity to mingle with their own kind. Dog-dog aggression (fear-based) is a very sad behavior problem that can take months to overcome at older ages.

Additionally, many puppies who are never introduced to babies have a hard time later on adjusting to new family members. Many dogs become aggressive with children, not because they have been teased by them (although that does happen a lot), but because they are simply not accustomed to the way they look, act, and sound.

Real-life Lesson: Panda and the Mukluks

This is a story Pam, a friend of mine, told about her Australian shepherd puppy, Panda. Pam is an experienced dog owner and trainer. She knows all about the importance of socializing her pup to a variety of things in the early months of life. Pam introduced Panda to all kinds of people, sights, sounds, animals, and so on, thinking she had done a pretty good job. At seven months of age, she took Panda with her on a trip to colder climates than she is accustomed to in Southern California. During this trip, they met a lot of new people, one of whom Panda took a strong dislike to. She tucked her tail between her legs, folded her ears straight back, raised her hackles, and barked and growled before “escaping” to a safe distance. What was this all about? Panda loves everyone! As Pam watched Panda, looking for clues, she realized Panda was barking and growling at the person’s big boots, the kind with the big tread and heavy fur lining. Aha! This was something Panda had never seen on human feet before. Imagine what it must have looked like from the puppy’s perspective. Dead animals instead of human feet? Yikes!

Although everyone tried to convince Panda that the boots were safe to approach, she was having none of it. Pam’s homework: Go to a thrift store or army surplus store and buy a pair of big, furry boots, and desensitize Panda to them by associating them with fun things, like treats, games, and dinner.

Recommended Reading

The Dog’s Mind: Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior by Bruce Fogle, DVM, MRCVS

The Perfect Puppy: How to Raise a Well-Behaved Dog by Gwen Bailey

Superdog: Raising the Perfect canine Companion by Dr/ Michael W. Fox

Genetics and the Social Behavior of Dogs: The Classic Study by John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller