This is a topic that gets a lot of attention and by now most people are aware of how important it is to socialize your puppy. Great! The message is getting out! Unfortunately, people seem to be pretty confused as to what exactly socialization is. We know that it means getting our dogs out and meeting new people and dogs, but there is a lot that is missing in that equation.
By the time you bring your puppy home at 7-8 week old (no less than that please), you have approximately 4-6 weeks before the period for optimal socialization closes. At around 16 weeks that initial imprinting period closes and it becomes harder for a puppy to habituate to new experiences.
Socialization is basically creating a good reference library for the rest of your dog’s life. It is introducing your new pup to new people of all different races, ages, body types, clothing, and disabilities. Dr. Ian Dunbar suggests your pup meet over 100 people a month to be properly socialized.
It is having your puppy play not only with healthy puppies their own age, but appropriate adult dogs of all different sizes, colours, and breeds. Its taking your puppy into new situations and experiences. I have a list of over 100 items your puppy needs to experience before 16 weeks of age.
Many great breeders will help you get a good head start on socialization and habituation. But here is the kicker…your pup has to have very good experiences and make positive associations with these things, and bringing you new puppy home can actually coincide with their first sensitive or fear period. It is easy to overwhelm or frighten a puppy, so make sure with each circumstance the puppy is happy and adjusting well. “Flooding” is exposing the dog or puppy to novel experiences when they are fearful and hoping they “just get over it”. Flooding should be avoided at all cost, as you can sensitize your puppy to those experiences, making them more fearful. It is a good idea to seek out a positive reinforcement trainer who can help guide you through those impressionable first weeks and set your puppy up for success.
The dog park is not an appropriate place for a puppy to be. There are many reasons for this.
- There are many dogs at dog parks that will not be appropriate with a puppy. If your pup happens to be in a sensitive period (developmental period where they are more fearful) any bad experiences can have lasting and scarring effects.
- There are many diseases and bacteria that are transmitted through feces (abundant at most dog parks unfortunately) and puddle water that can be very harmful to your puppy. I typically suggest waiting to visit dog parks until the pup is 10-12 months old.
- I suggest dogs have the all important rock solid recall before they venture into dog parks as well. Regardless of it being an off leash park, the by-laws state that your dogs still have to be under your control. If you can’t call your dog back, they should be training in a lower distraction environment until they can.
So, how can a pet guardian safely socialize their puppy without running the risk of disease and bad experiences? Here are some ideas:
-A well run, positive socialization class is essential. Well run socialization classes are filled with treats, play and lots of impulse control and new experiences. Your pup can safely socialize under the guidance and watch of a qualified professional.
-Take your puppies (carried) to your local large retailer and stand outside the entrance with a pocket full of treats. You will find many people will come up to you to pet your adorable little addition and you can ask every one of them to help you with socializing your pup.
-Take them to a friends house where there will be appropriate older dogs for them to play with. Make sure the dogs are healthy and up to date on shots.
-Create a play group for puppies in your neighbourhood. Social media community pages are a good way to find them near you or post a note at your community centre.
-Take them to your local pet store. There is no reason you cannot carry your puppy in until they have had their second set of shots and let the staff oooh and ahhh over your puppy. I don’t know of any pet stores that don’t allow pets in and don’t have treats for just such an occasion.
-Make a point to handle your puppy everywhere, every day. Check ears, teeth, lift that tail, hold paws.
-Book an appointment at your groomers and just let them do the basics (bath, brush, teeth, nails, ears) while you feed treats. Your groomer will thank you.
-Lots of noises are very scary to puppies and translates to fear in older dogs. Storm phobias and noise sensitivity is very common. Get a recording (many apps can be found for phones or CD’s of recordings can be purchased) and start off at a low volume and progress to louder as the puppy is able. Your puppy should not be experiencing any fear before you progress. Play the sound, give a treat.
-Take your puppy for car rides and rides on transit. Here in Calgary it is totally free to take your pet on public transit, so why not take advantage? Many cities you will have to pay, but it is worth it to be able to take your pup everywhere.
Keep it fun, Keep it safe! Have any more ideas on safe socialization? Comment below! 🙂
Guest blog by April Lott