The Right Way to Socialize Puppies
The first three to four months is the most important period in your dog’s life. That might seem like an extreme statement to some, but consider this. The most common cause of death for dogs under the age of three is euthanasia, and the reason for that is some form of behavior issue. I’ve written extensively on the benefits of socialization and training precisely because of this alarming statistic.
Your new puppy is like a blank canvas when you bring him home, assuming the breeder did their job. If you buy a puppy directly from a breeder you can ask the right questions about the parents and how the pup was handled since birth. If you adopt, hopefully the shelter can provide some background on the pup, and again, a good shelter should be doing their pre-adoption socialization and behavior evaluation on your potential puppy.
Let’s assume you get a puppy off to a reasonable start somewhere between seven and ten weeks of age. What should you do next? Ideally you can find a puppy pre-school class in your area. Ask your Veterinarian if they do one or if they can recommend one. These classes should be aimed primarily at education for you and socialization for the puppy. Serious obedience training can come later.
Exposure to other dogs, especially well socialized age-appropriate dogs, other people and new experiences is key during this period. Your puppy should be more curious at this point than fearful, but it’s really important to control your puppy’s exposure to new and different things. Over stimulation or exposure to frightening stimuli can be just as damaging than no exposure at all. A well-run puppy pre-school is the right kind of controlled environment.
Besides other puppies that are not litter mates, meeting other people is key. This is the time to expose your pup to men in hats for instance, or maybe people in wheel chairs, and even folks in uniform like the mailman or woman. Interactive toys, different surfaces, tunnels and chutes and the proper use of treats as rewards should all be part of puppy pre-school.
It’s a good time for you to learn some basics, too, like house training, setting limits, crate training if needed, and the basics of learning from a canine perspective.
What about the risk of disease? Frankly, in my opinion, the risk of poor socialization is a far greater risk. A good puppy pre-school will require at least a first set of vaccines and maybe a de-worming. That initial vaccination should take place a week before class and any puppy that appears sick should stay home.
If you can’t find or afford a puppy pre-school you can do it on your own, but be careful. Avoid places like dog parks where you really can’t control the environment. Puppies younger than four months who have not completed their full series of vaccinations should avoid dog parks.
You can do many of the same things done at puppy pre-school in your neighbors back yard or the home of a like minded friend. Make sure that you expose your puppy only to well socialized dogs and enlist the help of friends. Have your friends hand out puppy treats so that your dog begins to associate new people with good things. Once they know and trust your friends, bring out the cowboy hats.
Once your pup is socialized well everything else is so much easier. Training, trips to the vet, walks downtown and basically anything you do outside your own home is a piece of cake. Getting them off to a good start if the best way to insure a long and healthy life and well worth the effort.