Want to have an amazing dog? Socialize your puppy!
Puppies are full of promise. Each adorable new puppy has the potential to be our joyous companion for years and years. Yet all too often the sweet, friendly, outgoing puppy grows up to be a shy, over reactive adult dog; fearful in new situations and prone to anxiety, noise phobia, and sometimes even aggression. These behaviors can make living with dogs challenging and sometimes less than joyous.
How can we ensure that our puppies grow up to be the dog of our dreams? Socialize them! But what exactly does that mean? The answer lies in the extraordinary ability of the young puppy to take in and make lasting impressions about the world around them. These impressions; to noises, places, things, animals, and activities will either be negative, “Oh man! That was so scary!” or positive, “Yay! I got cheese!”. And that’s where we come in.
Our job is to introduce our puppies to everything they will or might encounter in their lives in a positive way. How do we make things positive for puppies? Basically by giving them food! Food is good. Food makes new things also good. Pairing novel things with food generally makes puppies happy with that novel thing but there are some subtleties. We do need to observe our puppies for signs of fear or anxiety. Watch their body language. Are they wagging their tail, happy and wiggly or are they cowering, hiding behind your legs and worried?
When to “treat” and when to retreat? If your puppy is engaged, calm, and happy with a new situation, person, other animal, object, or noise, give a treat and praise. If your puppy is nervous and backs away, wait for your puppy to start to investigate, and then treat and praise. If your puppy is scared, you should retreat and try a slower approach after the puppy is no longer anxious.
Remember that you are not only positively reinforcing happy behavior, but you are also trying to change your puppy’s emotional response with praise and food. That said, no amount of food or praise can soothe a truly terrified puppy. We need to be savvy about the things that might be too scary or overwhelming for our individual puppies and introduce these things gradually, without evoking fear or anxiety.
Most puppies get accustomed to things within their own home quickly. They are generally confident in the home because they know it. That is to say, they have become socialized to it. It is a common mistake to think if puppies are fine at home then they will be fine in other situations. Not so. If puppies are not actively socialized to the world outside their home, they will not know it and will be more likely to react with anxiety, fear, or aggression as adult dogs.
We all get better at what we practice and our dogs are no exception. If we guide our puppies to practice calm, happy interactions, they become more calm and happy. If we don’t intervene early to help a nervous, fearful puppy, they will become yet more nervous and fearful. They will not “grow out of it”.
Take advantage of the time up until sixteen weeks of age in which the puppy is most open to learning and when lasting impressions are made. Engage in a deliberate program of social and environmental exposure that continues for the first year of life.
Waiting to socialize puppies until they are fully vaccinated increases their risk of behavior problems as adults. In fact, statistics show us that more dogs under three years of age lose their lives due to behavioral issues than due to all infectious and noninfectious diseases combined.
Socialization gives dogs confidence. Puppies that have been socialized grow to become dogs that are easier and safer to live with, and enjoy a more relaxed, peaceful and happy lives. Maximize your puppy’s potential through socialization and be rewarded with an amazing dog!
Please take time to review the information on the link below regarding the American Veterinary Medical Association’s, “Welfare Implications of Socialization of Puppies and Kittens”.