The importance of socializing a puppy can never be over-emphasized, but what exactly does it mean? And how does one go about it? This article will explain to you what socialization is and how to put it into practice to ensure your dog has few, if any behavioral problems later in life and can interact well with dogs and other species.
Socialization is the process whereby a puppy learns to recognize and interact with other individuals of its species, with people of different ages, races, and genders, and with other animals that she is likely to come into contacts with, such as cats and horses. The dog learns the skills needed to communicate and interpret the intentions of the other animals, thus avoiding unnecessary hostility. The dog will also learn to cope with stress and will suffer less in stressful situations as an adult. When we talk about socialization, we are often talking about getting used to, i.e. getting a puppy used to different places, places of interest and sounds so that he or she becomes confident in new situations and can get used to as many different stimuli as possible.
There are certain periods in a puppy’s development that are more important than others. The most sensitive socialization period begins around the age of 3 weeks and begins to decline at 12 weeks. Peak susceptibility is between 6 and 8 weeks. It’s important to remember that many young dogs need constant social interaction to maintain their socialization and if they don’t, they will relapse or become frightened again. The 6-8 month period is another sensitive period for socialization and owners and trainers can use this window to further get used to and socialize their puppy with different environments, people, and animals.
So, now that we know why and when to socialize, we need to see how to do it. It’s recommended that you introduce your puppy to new stimuli and other people and pets in a systematic and controlled way. Remember, these formative experiences will determine your pet’s behavior for the rest of her life, so the idea is that they should be pleasant and fun. They can also be challenging, but if done properly, the puppy will learn that there is no threat and that she is safe to explore and meet new friends and situations without fear. This guarantees the best chance of developing a healthy temperament and being able to cope in all circumstances.
Early socialization is of course in the hands of the breeder and if they are conscientious and responsible, they will ensure that the puppies are treated regularly and exposed to normal household stimuli such as the television, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, doorbell, etc. Puppies raised in a quiet kennel or room will have difficulty adapting to a normal family environment.
So once the puppy is in your home, it’s your job to continue to introduce her carefully to different people, animals, and stimuli. However, it’s important to only introduce the puppy to new people, places, objects, and situations when you’ve got the experience fully under control. A frightening experience will be harmful – avoid unfriendly dogs and adults and children who don’t understand how to be friendly and gentle with animals. Invite friends to your home shortly after you bring your puppy home to teach her that guests are friendly and welcome in her new home. Give your friends treats to give to the puppy so she’ll be rewarded. Introduce her to one or two other friendly, healthy, fully vaccinated dogs – she’ll be able to join larger groups once she’s taken all her pictures and learned some social skills from the dog and overcome any fears. Always be prepared to intervene if your puppy is frightened, threatened, or bullied by another dog.
When socializing your puppy, you’ll need to evaluate your lifestyle and environment and assess what situations are lacking. For example, if you live in the countryside, take your puppy to the city and let her gradually and gently get used to the hustle and bustle of people, noise, and traffic. However, if you live in a city and these things aren’t a problem, take your puppy to the countryside so she can see and smell the farm animals and get used to them. Make sure your dog meets some dog-friendly cats. Don’t let her go after them as this will become a lifelong habit that will be difficult to change. If your household doesn’t have children, introduce your puppy to several children who can play gently with her regularly. Always keep an eye on them to make sure the children are gentle and that your dog reacts well and doesn’t get nervous or aggressive.
Remember to always protect your puppy’s health before she’s fully vaccinated. Don’t put her on the ground where there may be dog urine or feces and don’t let her come into contact with other dogs that may be carrying diseases. You can still socialize your puppy by carrying her in different situations and taking her in the car, allowing her to see many different things in a safe environment and she will get used to trips in the car at the same time. Use treats and praise to reinforce good behavior. Don’t comfort your puppy if she’s scared, as this could be interpreted as praise for the wrong behavior. Just change the situation (ask an approaching person to step back or pick your puppy up to get her out of a difficult situation) until she feels safe and secure again.
Any interaction with your puppy at this age will consistently reward the desired behavior, increasing the likelihood that the dog will repeat it. It’ll also help prevent the development of unwanted behavior.
Another helpful step would be to enroll in puppy socialization and training class. This provides a great opportunity for puppies to socialize with other dogs, for puppies to learn obedience training in a playful environment with plenty of distractions and also for owners to learn training and communication techniques.
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