Puppy Socialization

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What is socialization?

When someone talks about socializing a dog or puppy, most people start thinking about take a pup to the dog local park.  While many dogs may enjoy trips to the park, there is actually much more involved in properly socializing a puppy than just turning them loose with other dogs.  A properly socialized puppy will have been exposed not only to other dogs, but a wide variety of people, other animals, sounds, obstacles, and environments.

Why is socialization at an early age so important?

Puppies learn most of their social skills during the first twelve weeks of their lives.  This is also the time during which a bad experience may cause a life-long fear.  A lack of proper socialization during this time period can lead to fearful, nervous, or even aggressive tendencies that are very difficult to modify later in the dog’s life.  While it is important to continue socializing your puppy even after the twelve week mark, the experiences your puppy has before turning twelve weeks old are crucial to their development.

So, how do you make sure your dog gains this experience?

It may sound like a huge undertaking, but socializing your pup can be worked into your everyday life fairly easily.  Here are some ideas on how to expose your puppy to a variety of things:

  • Take your puppy out and about with you!  As simple as it may sound, a daily walk through your neighborhood can expose your puppy to a variety of things.  Cars going by, other pedestrians out walking, the odd sounds of the city garbage truck making its rounds, just to name a few.  Visiting downtown areas or around schools can also expose them to larger crowds of people and children.

Please note that If your puppy has not yet received their vaccinations, it is best to carry them when you are out and about.  This will limit their exposure to potential diseases, but still allow them to take in all the activity going on around them.  Check with your vet to make sure your puppy is receiving the vaccines he or she needs, and at the appropriate times.

  • Find a local trainer.  Most trainers will offer classes specifically for puppies of this age, giving your puppy a great chance to be around other puppies and people.  When looking for a trainer, always make sure you find someone who uses positive reinforcement ONLY!
  • Enlist the help of your friends and family.  Ask friends or family who have friendly, vaccinated dogs (or even cats!) to come visit your house.  It’s also a good idea to visit them so your puppy can meet them in different environments.  Even if some of your friends don’t have pets, they can still help!  It’s important for your puppy to meet lots of people, including men, women, and children. 
  • Practice grooming.  Even if your puppy isn’t a breed that requires a lot of maintenance, it’s still important to teach them that basic things such as brushing, bathing, and having their paws and ears touched are no big deal.  Aside from being able to groom your pet, these things will come in handy when your dog has to be handled for other things, such as a veterinary exam.  If you aren’t comfortable doing these things yourself, seek the help of a qualified groomer. 
  • Introduce your dog to various sounds.  The vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, or a dropped pot or pan in the kitchen are all noises that you can expose your dog to.  Sudden sounds that are particularly loud or obnoxious should be introduced from a distance initially, then gradually bring them closer.

All of these are great ways to get your puppy’s socialization headed in the right direction, as long you take the time to do them safely and positively!  Here are a few things to remember when working with your pup.

1)  Avoid letting your puppy interact with dogs you are not familiar with.  At this young age, your pup is more prone to illness and disease.  Only let them interact with dogs you know are friendly, healthy, and properly vaccinated.

2) Take things at your puppy’s pace!  Don’t force them to confront too much at one time, especially if they seem nervous.  For example, if your puppy is nervous about approaching an object, take them back to the distance at which they are comfortable, and gradually work from there.

3) Keep in mind that dogs, especially young puppies, typically learn more from multiple short training sessions each day rather than one very long one.  All dogs are different, but a good starting point is about ten minutes at a time.  If you notice your dog acting distracted or frustrated, your session may be too long.

Remember to always keep a positive attitude when working with your dog!  Training and socializing should be fun for both of you, and create the foundation for a strong relationship.

Written by Kristen McCartney
Find out more at, www.missbelles.com

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