How to raise a happy dog – Part 10: Dog Socialization: Crucial yet often skipped
This is the 10th article of the series “How to raise a happy dog”.
This series is brought to you by Jacket Rust
Socialization begins in the whelping box. During the first weeks of life, the breeder handles each puppy one or two times a day. Studies have shown that early environmental influences, such as positive brief handling can have profound and enduring effects on behavior.
Most responsible breeders feel it’s essential to expose a three to six month old puppy to new situations, as long as the exposure is done in a careful and controlled manner and is fun for the puppy. Most puppies are quick to learn everything and seem especially prone to never forget a bad experience, so be careful with them.
Even with good socialization, what might be called an environmental, or situational fear can emerge at different phases in a puppy’s life. Some breeders feel this is around the 16 to 20 week mark. The puppy may exhibit fear of an unfamiliar place, or even fear in a familiar place that is somehow altered. Usually puppies pass through this stage just fine – in some it’s never really apparent. It seems that if puppies experience something extremely unpleasant during one of these sensitive fear periods, they may be permanently traumatized or require a good deal of gentle handling and desensitization in order to get them over their fear.
Teaching bite inhibition is an important part of puppy socialization, and can be taught at a very young age. It starts in the whelping box when puppies learn from their littermates the difference between a play bite and a more serious one that hurts. Most breeders continue this process in their interaction with puppies. Some breeders discourage any mouthing by puppies at all, while others allow mouthing and play biting but teach the dog limits through gentle reprimands and a loud “Ouch!”. Most dogs are very smart and quickly get the idea. Gently shaking the puppy by the ruff along with the reprimand gets the message through just fine – hitting the puppy is never appropriate.
Introducing Your Puppy To Other Animals
How you introduce your puppy to other animals is highly individual, but remember, safety and a positive outcome are the goals.
A good way to apprise the situation is to let the puppy and another animal sniff each other through a barrier such as a kid gate. If there are tail wags and enthusiasm all around then a little closer inspection is called for. Still, make sure you have control of the introduces – having each on a leash is a good way to achieve that objective. Praise each for good behavior, stay calm and talk in happy tones. The body language and posturing of both parties should clue you in to how things are going. Personalities and size differences of the puppy and the other animal are major considerations for ongoing observation and supervision of play as your puppy melds into the family. Consult your breeder if you anticipate any difficulty.
Always walk your puppy on a leash in an unsecured area such as a neighborhood to avoid disastrous encounters that could affect the puppy for its entire life.
Introducing Your Puppy To Children and Others
As a rule, children and puppies are drawn to each other like magnets. It’s your job to make sure the experience is a positive one for both these little ones. Introduce them at a distance and then allow closer and closer encounters depending on how they respond to each other. This may move along quite rapidly. Watch body language and responses from both child and puppy. Do not allow either to get stressed or out of control from excitement.
Establish clear rules for how the children are allowed to handle the puppy. Show children who are old enough, the best way to pick up a puppy (supporting all parts). Do not let a toddler try to carry a puppy. Supervise some on-lap holding for that “close to me” feeling little children want.
During puppyhood, it’s important for your puppy to have numerous exposures to different people in controlled situations. Invite people over to play with the puppy on a regular basis. Take your puppy for short, fun trips (not just to the vet) in the car weekly. Expose your puppy on a regular basis to new and different surroundings. Take food treats with you and make it as much fun as you can for the puppy. Be vigilant in avoiding negative encounters with other dogs or people. The time you spend with this kind of exposure in puppyhood will pay off in a dog that’s well-adjusted and adaptable for the rest of its life.
In our next article, we will be discussing some dog training tips. So stay tuned!
By Petra Wafa
Certified dog trainer, Jacket Rust