Dog Talk: Socializing your puppy

November 16, 2008

Socializing an important part of raising your new pup

Question
We just got our first puppy and we are of course trying to learn everything possible about doing things properly with her so we get a good family dog. What advise can you give us?
Patricia, Shalimar

Answer
Well Patricia you omitted to mention what breed of puppy you have although with this questions it is not actually relevant. I say that because right now the nature versus nurture question is too late. You have the puppy and the genes have played their part so it is now your turn to affect positively your puppy’s future behavior through appropriate nurturing.

Socialization is now the key word followed closely by training, and, contrary to popular belief, socialization is not a small task.  By the time I have responded in full you are going to feel a little overwhelmed with the job you have on hand. However, socialization and training can be fun for both the owner and the dog if done properly with a commitment to raising this puppy correctly. There are also many great resources at hand to assist you with this job.

The development period for puppies takes place between 3 and 12 weeks of age. There is a primary socialization period from three to five weeks where behavior patterns and emotional tendencies take place and then a secondary socialization period from six to 12 weeks when the mother’s job is almost complete; the puppy is weaned and has developed good interaction skills with its littermates.  Most people acquire a puppy around 7 weeks of age so we will focus on this period.

Canine socialization is more difficult than with most other animals. We expect our dogs to be social with a variety of other dogs, with other domestic animals and to be social, comfortable and relaxed around many different people. An unconfident and/or unsocial dog may develop behaviors of fear, aggression, or a host of other problems in later months.  A good puppy program can head off these potential issues.

Exposure, exposure, exposure
Puppies need to be exposed to as many different people, places, noises, smells and environments as possible in a safe and controlled manner. Each exposure to each scenario needs to be a positive experience for the puppy so it can stride through life feeling confident in any situation we place it.  Make a list of all the places you visit and one by one expose your puppy to these areas for short periods.

Enroll your puppy into a puppy class. Puppy School is designed to assist with socialization. A good puppy class run by a professional trainer will be a safe and controlled environment for your puppy to meet many other dogs of a similar age. Puppy class should be mostly off leash so the dogs have an opportunity to interact and play.  The puppies should be encouraged to approach strangers and to investigate novel things in the class environment. The class should be structured so your puppy is encouraged to play with the other dogs so they develop good play skills, tolerance, trust and affection towards other dogs and people.

Play “pass the puppy.” This is a great way to expose your puppy to lots of different people. During the “pass the puppy” game have everyone touch your puppy all over its body. Your veterinarian will thank you for this when your puppy behaves nicely when being examined. Puppy play also helps social learning between different dogs and between dogs and people. Through play dogs learn self control and restraint and they learn bite inhibition. Through play, puppies acquire many of the social and environmental skills they need to be well adjusted.   In my opinion a puppy that can play is a puppy that can learn and if we want our dogs to reach their full potential they need to know that learning through exploration is fun and reinforcing.

A good puppy class offers great socialization and is a great foundation for future training. To find a professional trainer in your area visit one of the highly reputable professional organizations with extensive member directories. These organizations have ridged codes of conduct for professional members. They list member’s qualifications and areas of expertise making your search easier. I suggest the DogSmith at WWW.888DogSmith.com or the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or the National Association of Dog Obedience Trainers. There respective websites are NADOI.org and APDT.com

Dog Talk is a column by Niki Tudge, the owner and founder of The DogSmith, a National Dog Training, Dog Walking and Pet Care Franchise. You can reach Niki at 888-Dog Smith or visit www.888DogSmith.com

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