We often bring home our new puppies at 8 weeks of age and many new puppy parents do not realize that already there is work to be done, besides just staring at them all day and thinking how cute they are! You have picked up your puppy at a critical moment of its life called the socialization period.
This is the period in the first 3 months of life where they are generally not fearful and will receive the most opportunity to learn how to adapt to new experiences in their lives. These experiences include anything that we want your puppy to perceive as “normal” and be able to cope well. This includes:
- Strangers, children, and babies. Expose your puppy to as many people as possible. I often recommend going to a park or school when it lets out as you will see a variety of different people of all ages and sizes. Bring your high value treats and feed your puppy while the kids are running all around. Remember you want your dog to have a positive experience being there so if he/she is demonstrating signs of fear (ears back, tail between legs, crouched posture, lip licking) retreat to a distance where they are no longer displaying signs and start feeding. This is the same for all experiences. Also ask strangers or visitors to offer treats to your puppy.
- Dogs and other animals. You want your puppy to meet anywhere from 50-150 different dogs during the first 12 weeks of life. The more the better! Aim higher if you have a breed that is known to be wary or aggressive towards other dogs. Also, every interaction does not have to be face to face but seeing dogs from afar is also a great experience as well!
- Get accustomed to handling. As puppies get older they often do not want certain body parts touched. The main ones are the head, mouth, ears, and feet. Repeatedly touch these areas while feeding treats to get them used to this.
- Loud sounds such as fireworks, sirens, thunderstorms, babies. These can be simulated from a laptop or television. Daily sights, such as skateboarders, bicyclists, and cars can often stimulate dogs prey drives and if not accustomed to them may lead to lunging and chasing. As well, as routine experiences such as grooming, car rides, vet visits to name a few.
Please remember that not only do they need to be exposed to these things repeatedly, but they must also have a POSITIVE experience during the exposure. We can help make these experiences positive by offering treats, praise, petting, play, or a favourite toy at the same time. These positive experiences during this time frame will drastically affect how they behave and cope as adults. Inadequate socialization will lead to behavioural problems, such as fear, overexcitement, avoidance and aggression problems amongst others.
Many people delay socialization because they are worried about disease transmission because their puppies are not fully vaccinated. It is my opinion that socialization still needs to be carried out and that the lifelong benefits far outweighs the risk. This risk can be minimized by allowing your puppy to meet vaccinated dogs, avoiding stool, and enrolling in an obedience training class with puppies of the same age. As well, don’t forget that socialization can also include observing other dogs and animals from a distance, there’s no excuse!
Are you wondering why this is so important?? Behavioural problems are the number 1 reason that dogs are surrendered to shelters and rescues and these dogs may be difficult to find homes for or face euthanasia in extreme cases. I can’t say it enough, invest the time and effort in now because a dog is a 12-15 year commitment and you want to enjoy those years with a well-rounded and sociable companion!
Written by Dr. Niki Low
Image courtesy of www.dogsaholic.com