Little puppies don’t come into our world with ready knowledge about humans or the world we live in. They need to learn about us, car rides, vacuums, weaving bicycles & more. If they don’t have a chance to learn about the people, animals & things in their environment, they may grow up to be fearful, anxious, antisocial adults. This situation can usually be prevented with early socialization & exposure to as many people, animals, sights, sounds & places as possible. If you are considering getting a new puppy, it’s best to obtain it at 8 weeks old. Before this time a puppy needs to be socialized to its mother & litter mates. From 8 weeks on, it’s critical that puppies socialize with humans.
Socialization : Making friends
Socialization is the process of developing relationships with other living beings in your environment. The first few months of your puppy’s life are the most critical for its development. If this time passes without the young puppy making necessary social contacts, irreparable damage may result, leading to fear, timidity or aggression. Since the most sensitive period for puppy socialization occurs during the first 12 weeks of age, you should begin the socialization process as soon as you get your new puppy (and then continue into adulthood).
Start with simple, quiet, one-person introductions & gradually include more people in noisier situations. Invite friends, relatives & their pets to come to your home to meet, greet & play with your puppy. As soon as your veterinarian says your puppy is adequately vaccinated, take it on many walks & outings as possible. Initially avoid situations that might be high risk for disease, such as neighborhood parks or areas with stray dogs. To make the new introductions special, give a small biscuit to your puppy whenever it meets someone. As soon as your puppy can sit on command, have it sit when it meets new people, letting each new friend give the reward. This teaches your puppy to greet properly, rather than lunging or jumping up on visitors and passersby.
It is important that your puppy meets & receives treats from a wide variety of people of all ages & appearances. A puppy that grows up in a restricted social group (i.e. all adults or all females) may show fear & aggression when later exposed to people who appear or act differently (i.e. children, men with beards). Even if there are no children living at home, it is likely that your puppy will encounter them sometime. Therefore, every effort should be made to see that your young puppy has plenty of opportunities to play with & learn about children. Some puppies seem to consider kids to be a completely different species since they walk, act & talk much differently than adults. If you don’t provide your puppy with adequate, positive interaction with children during its early months it may never feel comfortable around them.
Another way to promote early socialization is to take your puppy to training classes. The new concept in training is to start puppies young, before they pick up bad habits & when learning is rapid. These classes not only help the puppies get off to a great start with training, but they also offer a wonderful opportunity for important social experiences with other pups & people. Please ask our office for a referral for group training classes or private training classes. Punishment during the early development stages can negatively influence the puppy’s relationships with people. Avoid training methods that involve physical discipline, such as swatting your puppy, thumping it on the nose and rubbing its face in a mess. These methods can teach your dog to fear the human hand or to become a fear biter. In general, during the early months of your puppy’s life, avoid any interactions with people that make it anxious.
Habituation: Hello world!
Habituation is a fancy term that involves getting used to a varied environment. As your puppy matures, new sounds and situations can lead to fear and anxiety. Begin the habituation process at an early age. Frequently expose your puppy to different sights, sounds, odors and situations. For example, repeated, short car rides can minimize anxiety associated with traveling, provided nothing unpleasant occurs during the ride. Also expose your puppy to stimuli the sound of traffic, sirens, airplanes, water, elevators or alarm clocks. If your puppy seems to be exceptionally cautious when first introduced to new situations or stimuli, start off with mild exposure and give food rewards for non-fearful responses. Never give rewards while the pet is exhibiting fearful behavior- this only rewards the very response you are trying to discourage. Your puppy than can be gradually “built up” to more intense exposure. Tape recordings of a variety of environmental sounds are available if it’s difficult to expose your puppy to sufficient stimuli in your neighborhood.
Properly socializing and shaping your puppy’s temperament requires an investment in time. You will find that your efforts are worthwhile when you become the proud parent of a social, friendly dog.