How do you raise a friendly puppy? Puppy socialization is key! That means exposing your puppy or young dog to a variety of people and situations so he or she becomes accustomed to them. For young puppies, between four and twelve weeks is a critical stage for socialization, and is a period when they quickly absorb new information. Puppies that are not sufficiently socialized during this time are very likely to grow up fearful and unsure of themselves, people, and their environment. Since fear is often at the root of aggressive behavior such as biting, proper puppy socialization is critically important! If you are adopting a fearful dog, you can often help them by socializing them at any age, to help them get used to new situations. Below are some very basic puppy and dog socialization guidelines and exercises!
TAKE IT SLOW!
The overall plan is to slowly introduce your puppy or dog to noises, people and places, and make the experiences enjoyable. It doesn’t do any good to expose your puppy to, say, a room full of very loud children who pull on the puppy’s ears – that’s terrifying, not socializing!
REWARD THE GOOD
As you expose your puppy or dog to noises, places and people, praise or reward the puppy for any appropriately friendly response.
If your puppy or dog responds fearfully to anything new, remove your puppy from the cause, but avoid ‘reassuring’ him or her, which is actually praising the puppy for acting scared. Fearful body language to keep an eye out for includes: tail tucked between legs, white of eye showing, trembling, lying down or hunching over and not wanting to move, careening about on the end of a leash trying to escape.
REDIRECT BAD BEHAVIOR
Don’t allow any unwanted behavior while you are socializing. So jumping up, biting you or the leash, or barking should all be cut short by ending the socialization exercise and moving away from what is causing that behavior. Then in a few minutes or the next day, try again more slowly, from farther away, working them up to being well-behaved in the situation where they were previously misbehaving. Practicing obedience commands while in new situations can keep the puppy focused on you and the commands, and help avoid the unwanted behaviors.
Keep in mind that puppies must be kept safely away from areas where un-vaccinated dogs may have been until their last series of puppy vaccinations are effective. Typically this is around four months, but verify with your vet for your puppy. No parks, walks or contact with the ground outside your yard and your house until that time. Puppy socialization will help you end up with a happier, better pet, which is good for everyone.
NOW FOR SOME EXERCISES!
- Noises: If your puppy lives in a quiet room, set up a CD player to play normal household noises: doorbells ringing, vacuum cleaners running, doors slamming, toilets flushing, music playing. Start out at a low volume and over time raise it to a real-life level. Bring the puppies to different rooms so they can hear the noises and acoustics of various spaces. Take them for a pleasure ride in the car to expose them to outdoor sights, sounds and smells. Further widen their horizons by taking them for an outdoor walk in your arms if weather permits.
- Places: Take car rides (using a crate is best), visit friends, pet supply stores, and, once vaccinated, parks, beaches, outdoor cafes, the vet’s waiting room, everywhere and anywhere dogs are allowed.
- People: Try to introduce your puppy to at least one new person a day for the first few weeks. A store clerk, the mailman, your neighbors, your neighbors kids, friends, family, strangers walking down the street. Encourage positive interactions with the people, starting with just standing near them if your puppy or dog is at all unwilling to approach, and progressing to the people petting and giving them treats. As with noises and places, praise or reward the puppy for any appropriately friendly response.
- Other animals: If you want a dog that is friendly towards other animals, such as dogs and cats, and you don’t have any of your own, you’ll need to find a way to regularly expose your puppy to them. Training class is a great place to start for other dogs, especially classes just for puppies. Cats that live with dogs already can help ‘train’ a puppy to keep his nose and teeth to himself – but until puppy has learned to keep his or her distance from kitty’s claws, keep puppy safely in a crate, playpen, or use baby gates to give kitty security.
- Classes: puppy classes that allow off-leash socialization are wonderful! When your puppy is older, obedience training is a good way to get your puppy to practice focusing on you in a distracting environment, so you can continue your puppy’s socialization on into adulthood and new situations.
If you have questions about puppy socialization, consult with your pet trainer or behaviorist.