Puppy socialization: Most new puppy owners have heard those words. Indeed, the term “puppy socialization” hangs like the very Sword of Damocles, in just about every dog training and puppy rearing website on the internet. The critical socialization period starts at just 2 – 3 weeks and is over at 16 to 18 weeks. The message is that If your puppy is not properly socialized by the time the critical socialization period is over, he will have problems for the rest of his natural life. There are many published studies that suggest that good social experiences from a young age are imperative to puppy developing into a friendly and happy adult dog later on. Properly socialized puppies are less likely to be hyperactive or fearful, engage in unwanted chewing or show aggression toward people or other pets.
So, let my puppy play with other puppies, right?
For many new puppy owners, this dire warning about early socialization is interpreted as a dire need for the puppy to play with other puppies. And they are right: Play with other puppies does play a key role in the early socialization process. But from a behavioural standpoint, it is much more
important to get puppy thinking positively about all the things we take for granted that are part of living in a human directed society. This includes people of all descriptions, places, objects, animals, environmental sounds and experiences. Don’t get me wrong: Playing with other puppies is important to developing pups! But there are much more pressing issues to consider to get an infant member of a foreign species to truly embrace human culture.
Develop positive social experiences gradually!
Puppies are born with an instinct to be really cautious about new things. Dogs have evolved over tens of thousands of years and this instinct to be cautious has helped to ensure the success of their species. After all, an overly precocious puppy can easily lose his way, get stuck somewhere, or be an all to easy snack for many predators. So puppies have evolved to err on the side of caution about nearly everything. Their instinct tells them to steer clear of wierd things and observe from a safe distance until the weird thing proves that it is safe, before approaching it.
Puppies can feel threatened by a lot of the weird things that we humans take for granted in our human oriented world. Puppies can (and need to) learn to associate these weird things with good things happening. Here are some things you can do to make sure your puppy gets the socialization experiences he needs to grow into a well behaved, problem free adult dog.
Tips to get on the right paw with puppy socialization
- Get a puppy from a breeder or shelter who does their work to socialize pups from just a few weeks old. Handling should begin before puppies eyes open. Children should be carefully introduced to puppies before they leave their mother. Poorly socialized mother dogs tend to produce shy or reactive puppies. Insist on meeting at least the mother dog before adopting a puppy. If you choose to adopt a pup from a poorly socialized litter, know that the road ahead may hold challenges.
- Don’t push!. Let puppy set the pace. Wait with him and offer some snacks while he observes new things at a distance he is comfortable with, and gradually, systematically close the distance when he is comfortable. If you use food at distances at which he is showing no fear, you will greatly speed up his progress.
- Puppy playgroups are a great start to learning how to play with other puppies. Step in and quietly distract and redirect puppy if he plays too aggressively or rough for his playmates. Be there to protect your puppy and remove him from the action if play becomes too intense.
- Socialization includes handling, people, places, things and noises.
- Download a variety of sounds from the internet. Play sounds of children playing, babies crying, diesel trucks and fireworks at low volumes while you play with puppy.
- Don’t isolate your puppy in a crate most of the day. Crates are a great place to nap and play when you can’t supervise, but they can act as a sensory deprivation chamber. This can make the normal world really scary for your puppy. Use the crate judiciously, and don’t overuse it.
- Take your puppy to puppy classes run by a CCPDT certified dog trainer.