Doggie Parenting 101
Tips and tricks on loving and living with dogs
Puppy socialization: easily
the most important lesson
By Victoria Rose
SOCIALIZATION is vital to puppies because it sets the foundation for the rest of their lives. It's the single most important - and most neglected need that puppies have. The most vital socialization period is from three to 16 weeks. Good breeders start the process, then send their puppies to new homes at the optimal age of 8 weeks. The new owners then have 8 weeks to accustom the puppies to multiple and various people, animals, situations, environments and experiences. Working hard for that two months pays off large for the rest of the puppies' lives.
Puppy socialization, done correctly, builds confidence. Confident puppies usually become stable adults. Puppies not socialized usually become fearful. Besides often being miserable, fearful dogs are much more likely to bite. Make thoroughly socializing your puppy your top priority so you don’t suffer the problems (from him running away terrified on the 4th of July to disfiguring a child) inherent in owning a fearful dog.
Besides you, friends and strangers handling, holding and hugging him regularly before he’s four months old, you should also have him:
- Meet dozens of children, babies and toddlers and adults of all shapes, sizes and mannerisms.
- Greet people with floppy hats, umbrellas, sun glasses, canes, crutches and wheelchairs.
- Meet the letter carrier, meter reader and UPS driver.
- Greet and play with lots of dogs (Don’t let them dominate or bully him).
- Walk on various surfaces.
- See kids on skate boards and bikes.
- Meet cats, birds, mice, rabbits, cows, goats, horses and chickens. Visit duck ponds.
- Ride elevators.
- Walk on tables and stairs and through tunnels and ride through car washes.
- Introduce him to vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, fly swatters, kites, noisy pans, rolling barrels, shopping carts, crowds, traffic, construction zones and fireworks.
These must all be pleasant, non-threatening experiences. Work in short sessions, at a distance where the puppy is not scared or stressed. Use food, toys and praise to reward him for being calm and confident. This is a critical time. Just as you are “imprinting” him with positive experiences to benefit him the rest of his life, so can you also, if not careful, imprint him with negative experiences that damage him forever. It’s imperative he have no frightening experiences.
If he shows fear, you may have gone too close or too quickly. Back up and slow down. Socialize in a way that he never gets scared, and that every experience is a positive one he handles with confidence. Joining a puppy class may be helpful.
That said, there is another serious caution: Diseases are real threats to puppies. Until his vaccinations are over, do not allow him around dogs with whose health you are unfamiliar, or on the ground in areas where infected dogs may have defecated. Carry him or keep him in a pen or on a mat. Ask people to use hand disinfectant before petting.
More dogs die from lack of socialization than from disease. Do not let these threats keep you from socializing your puppy. Proper socialization will help him become a happy, confident, life-long member of your family.
'Til next time, "kiss the kids"
Victoria (Mom of Jetta WAC, CGC)