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Canine University 71 Clinton St. Malden, MA

On Puppies

Socialization is a Work in Progress

Socializing a puppy means exposing her to the world and teaching her that it is a safe place to be. A young puppy has to meet and greet 100 people outside of your immediate family and 100 other dogs before she turns 18 weeks old, in order to be socially normal as an adult dog. This is a huge project that should not be taken lightly. The more different people, places and dogs you are going to want your adult dog to be around, the more exposure she needs as a young dog.

Ideally, socialization should begin around four weeks of age when your puppy is still with its mother and littermates. Careful introduction of visitors who come and play with the puppies is the beginning of the long process of teaching a young dog about the world. When you bring home your puppy at 7 to 9 weeks old, it is then your job to continue her education by introducing her to as many different people, places and dogs as possible.

Some dogs are more prone to shyness, aggression and hesitancy toward new experiences. These dogs need twice as much socialization as the average dog. Often the more hesitant dog either has not had a good start in life and/or is a guarding or working breed. These dogs, which are less naturally gregarious than other breeds, can develop shy tendencies that almost always lead to aggression if not properly socialized as puppies and young adult dogs.

Giving a young puppy the right start is critical to helping her reach her full adult potential, but continuing that experience well into adulthood is also important. There is no definite end to socialization; in fact if not continued throughout adulthood, a dog can lose her confidence and forget what she has learned as a puppy.

If you have a young dog that is less than two years old you need to still work on socializing her as though she was still a young puppy. Just because her body has grown up doesn't mean she is fully mature. In fact, most dogs don't mature socially until close to 2 or 3 years old or later.

Take your young dog lots of new places as she reaches adolescence, as though she were a young puppy experiencing life for the first time. Arm yourself with treats and toys that your dog really likes and be sure you are ready to help your dog have good experiences no matter where she goes. Yes she's a lot bigger than she used to be but her brain is still in puppy mode, looking for reassurance and feedback from you that the world is a safe place to explore. This doesn't mean you ignore bad manners and allow your dog to act out of control: you must still help her learn to control her impulses, but you can make it payoff for her by being ready to set her up for success.

Rewarding your adolescent dog for having a moderate measure of self control will help her gain confidence in your ability to be her leader, as well as deepen the bonds of trust you are working so hard to establish. Adolescence is a typical time for confidence issues to crop up, and some teenage dogs are easily spooked by things they barely gave a second glance to at a younger stage. Most of this is a normal part of their development, but it is important to train through it so it does not develop into a larger problem later. The solution here lies in helping your dog regain her confidence by feeding, playing and jollying her through these times. If it's people your dog is spooked by, have the person drop treats or roll a ball , if it's an inanimate object (like a trash barrel), throw treats all around it and talk in a happy voice while your dog eats the goodies. Don't just avoid the situations that make your dog startle, work through them methodically until your dog is no longer spooked.

Here are some things you should do to keep socialization intact:

  • Make a point of taking your dog in the car on a regular basis to do errands, visit the pet store or play at the park.
  • Visit your veterinarian more than for the once a year check up and shots. Call and ask if there's less busy time for you to come by with your dog for a weigh in and let the staff cuddle and get to know your dog so she comes to expect good things to happen at the veterinary hospital.
  • Have your dog groomed regularly by a reputable groomer who puts lots of time and effort into the dogs, so that your dog likes to go there and can get use to being handled, brushed and bathed by a stranger.
  • Arrange playtimes with other dogs on a regular basis, go to the park, sign your dog up for doggie daycare, make a playdate with a friend. Get your dog out there and let her play with a variety of dogs of different sizes and ages to refine her play style and learn to play appropriately with all kinds of dogs.

On this last point it is important to be selective about your dog's playmates. Become a student of observation when your dog is playing with other dogs. If your dog is bullying (or being bullied) you should interrupt the play or find another group to play with. Not all dogs like all other dogs: some can work out their differences and some need to find new friends.

Remember that every good experience that you give your dog is money in the bank for a bad experience down the road. If your dog is injured or scared by another dog it won't scar her for life if she has played with a lot of other dogs and had fun. Positive social experiences are an insurance policy for your dog.

They insure that your dog will bounce back from a bad experience without permanent damage. If your dog is the sensitive type that is fearful of loud noises or skittish in new situations she needs triple the social experience of the average more confident dog. Without the benefit of lots of social experience the shyer dog will develop fearful and aggressive reactions to the world around her.

Much research has been done on the topic of socialization, and it has been found that the more experiences a dog has with the world she will later be asked to live in, the more confident, problem free adult she will become. Socialize your dog to your world, and all the people, places, dogs, sounds, sights and things that make it up. If you want a dog to go fishing with, introduce her to boats and water at an early age. If you hold band practice at your house on a regular basis, introduce your dog to music, equipment and noise at a young age. If you have a family dog that will be expected to be present and well behaved at soccer games, vacations, long car rides and birthday parties, start introducing her to all that involves now. In short don't wait to expose your puppy to the world she'll be expected to live in as an adult. If she does not get to experience these things now while she is young and impressionable she may not be able to tolerate them as an adult. Get out there!

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