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Canine University 71 Clinton St. Malden, MA

On Puppies

Social Skills 101

Dogs are social creatures that crave the company of other dogs and people. All pups are born into a litter with a certain status that may or may not benefit them. The pushy puppy who is large, healthy, and robust will always be the first to nurse and butt his siblings out of the food pan. This puppy will be more sure of itself than the smallest, weakest pup that must compete with his siblings for nourishment.

The critical window of socialization is wide open from 2 wks of age until about 18 wks of age, after which time it is much more difficult to socialize a dog to other dogs and people. Socializing a dog that is 8-18 wks old is relatively simple: you basically show up where there are people and dogs and let your pup make friends. Depending on a dogs personality however, some dogs may need more from these social encounters than others.

Puppies who are considered easy going are outgoing, playful and fun. They rarely growl or bark when they play and are gentle even when wrestling. These pups use their mouth more gently when they play and are goofy and comical to watch. This type of puppy is the easiest to socialize since they adapt quickly to new situations. These pups tend to recognize variations in shyness or assertiveness in their playmates immediately and adjust their invitations to play accordingly.

The shyer and more assertive pups are the ones who need more careful monitoring. The more assertive a puppy is, the more broad and varied social experience he will need. These dogs tend to jump on other dogs and immediately begin to wrestle without even bothering to say hello first. They tend to bark and growl a lot in play and use their mouths roughly on their playmates. Their play style usually involves a lot of mouthing, biting, mounting, trampling and rolling other puppies around regardless of the other pup's size or response to them.

Owners of these puppies usually complain about a lot of nipping and biting, and are usually pretty rough when they take treats as well. These dogs do not read the body language of other dogs well and tend to play with all dogs the same way whether the other dog is having fun or not. They also tend to ignore their playmates objections to their roughness and continue to play exuberantly. A shrieking, ticked off puppy message is not hard to understand- it means back off that's too rough- but these guys act like they never heard it and continue to play too roughly.

Rowdy puppies should attend a well run puppy kindergarten class and be monitored by the staff. They will probably need to be interrupted by the staff ( we use a squirt of water) and calmed often until they learn to adapt their play style to the dog they are playing with. Also, be sure to choose this dog's playmates carefully at the park and with friends dogs. This is not a dog you'll want playing roughly for hours on end. Having playmates with different play styles is good for dogs like this. They only learn to adjust their style by playing with a wide variety of puppies and older adult dogs.

Adult, well socialized dogs have a lot to teach these rowdy puppies. Adult dogs believe in good manners and will usually allow a pup some leeway, but only to a point. An adult dog will rarely tolerate hard mouth biting or mounting for long before they tell the youngster off. The telling off can be a growl, bark, a paw slap or in rare instances a pinning down. Mind you we are talking about a well socialized dog here, a dog that knows exactly how to make her point without injury or bloodshed. A dog that has played with hundreds of different dogs and knows exactly what to do. You should never allow a puppy of any temperament to continually harass an older dog to the point of aggression. If the two dogs live in the same household, limit their time together and separate them when the pup gets too obnoxious.

The shy pup is a different sort all together. The shy puppy needs triple the amount of socialization as the average dog but it must be carefully calculated. Play a very shy puppy with an obnoxious or rowdy one and you'll set yourself back weeks in socialization. A well organized group puppy kindergarten is essential for these shy pups because they get to see all different personalities of puppies in a safe environment. This dog typically hides for quite a few weeks before being brave enough to venture out and find someone to play with. In this safety of a group class they learn how to get other dogs to move away from them until they feel safe enough to explore. Often shy pups snap or growl at the rowdy pups telling them to back off and give them room. This is one way they learn to control personal space and helps them feel more confident. Once most shy pups learn that they can get other dogs to leave them alone if their advances are unwanted, they begin to relax and accept the less rowdy dogs invitations to play.

A carefully run daycare might be an excellent idea for a shy dog, but the group it plays with must be chosen carefully. Playing a shy dog with a rowdy puppy for hours on end will teach the shy dog to be defensive and the rowdy dog to be a bully. A shy dog's best pal is a playful, silly, clown of a puppy who makes a fool of itself trying to get the shy dog to play. The playful dog can play with anyone and never gets in scuffles. At our daycare we call these dogs "cheerleaders" because they act as a buffer between the rowdy and the shy.

In general if you own a rowdy or shy dog you must offer twice the social experience of other dogs. Sign up for well run group classes or enroll your dog in a carefully run doggie daycare. Be vigilant for bullies at the dog park and don't allow your dog to play for an extended time with another dog that constantly harasses it. Choose your dogs friends carefully and you will have a social butterfly that other dogs love to be around.

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