To Socialize the Puppy, or Not to Socialize the Puppy
The consensus is in to socialize the puppy. However, the discord lies in when to socialize your puppy. Many people wonder what age to start socializing and training a puppy and hopefully this blog post will give you some answers, or at least point you in the right direction.
Oh puppies! They are the BEST! If I could bottle up puppy breathe, I would; it's so precious (Side Note -I never said I was "normal")! Nothing is more exciting then getting your puppy and having that loyal bundle of joy following your around you. While your puppy delivers endless unconditional love, joy, and elation to you, what do you do for your puppy? One of the most beneficial things you can do for him is to socialize him early on, when he is most impressionable.
Right away we think we need to housebreak and "train" our puppy to sit, stay, shake, come, and etcetera. But this is not the most important thing for the puppy right off the bat. They can learn certain things throughout their life (you can teach old dogs new tricks by the way), but it's extremely important to socialize them early on; it could even save their life! Focus on socializing your puppy first, or simultaneously with "training" your puppy to be uber awesome.
Socializing Your Puppy Can Make or Break Him
You have a window of opportunity during your puppy's imprint time (which is when your puppy is between 5-16 weeks young), when he is most impressionable.
Like children, puppies form their habits and beliefs (yes, beliefs - dog's do think and have minds too, they are so much like us humans it's insane) around the early stages in their life which will dictate how they behave in the future. *When my husband and I got our first Bull Terrier puppy, Hector, my mother in law encouraged us to be very touchy-freely with him. Touch and rub hit feet, gently play and pet his ears and face, etc. The reason was to get him used to humans touching him so in the future he won't be aggressive when say we go to clip his nails or a kid pets his head. He grew up with all the touching and positive reinforcements, therefore he was comfortable and even enjoyed all the petting, scratching, and touching because he positively associated it.
Learning how to act around other dogs, around other humans, and in a variety of different settings early on will ensure that your dog is easy to be around. Equally important, it can prevent unwanted behaviors like separation anxiety and aggression.
Every year, there are approximately 1.2 million dogs euthanized, which comes out to about 3,288 per day (Pet Statistics | ASPCA). The majority of these dogs are euthanized because they didn't receive the proper socialization as puppies, which led to whatever circumstances got them in the shelter to begin with. They may grow up aggressive, fearful, not knowing how to act and behave to human's standards, etc. A main contributing factor of a dog remaining a part of a family is how "easy" he is to live with.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of humans that get rid of their dog after his "cute" little puppy stage wears off. When you don't work with your puppy and show him the manners you expect from him, he reverts to his wolf like behavior. This poor dog is then dropped off at a shelter, or even kicked out.
Another common occurrence that puts a dog in a shelter is when a dog runs away or gets into trouble for attacking another dog or human. All this because of fear that was never dealt with when they were a puppy. There are so many dogs in shelters that it's highly unlikely that another family will adopt him, especially if he has severe behavioral problems. Yes, it makes me extremely angry too!
What Exactly is Socialization?
Socialization for a puppy is when you take them out, expose them to, and get them used to different stimuli such as places, people, sounds, other animals, situations, landscapes, etc.
Socializing your puppy is about teaching him how to respond to new and potentially stressful situations, in a calm and safe way for everyone involved.
When you socialize your puppy early on, you prepare him for a better, less stressful future. For example, trips to the vet or groomers, family vacations and trips, and house parties will be a lot more pleasant and safer with a dog that has been pre-exposed to a variety of people, places, and situations. When you have a dog that is socialized early on, you can do a lot more with him such as going to pet friendly restaurants, dog related events, or simply taking a stroll with him around the harbor or park.
Socialization early on is very beneficial because when your puppy grows up, you can then take him anywhere with you and he is good in most, if not all situations. It also helps your dog to look at life positively.
But My Veterinarians Said Not To Socialize My Puppy Until After Shots
Here's where the major dispute lies regarding when to socialize your puppy. Many vets instruct puppy owners to refrain from socializing or taking their puppy out in public, until after they have had all of their puppy shots, which is usually when they are about 4 months old. The Veterinarian definitely comes from a good place. They want to ensure that your puppy is protected and does not catch any diseases. However, many dog trainers and experts say to get your puppy out and about, socializing as soon as possible. What to do...
However, by the time your puppy has had all of his shots, he's now 4 months old and you've lost that golden opportunity, the Puppy Imprint Stage, to socialize your puppy. The good news is that it does not have to be one or the other; there can be a balance.
You can socialize your puppy early on in a high quality puppy class and while you take him with you to various locations. This is also when you can detect any behavior issues your puppy may have such as fear of other dogs, fear of males or females, fear of kids, overly-aggressive tendencies, etc. If detected early on, you can help your puppy through it so they won't have, or have a better chance overcoming, these issues when they grow up.
Where to Socialize Your Puppy
Where you socialize your puppy is very important. As long as you can discern safe situations from potentially harmful situations, you should be good to go. However, start out small, then gradually introduce him to more situations.
You can take him downtown, to beaches and parks, and other various locations that you deem safe. You can even take him to the mall and pet friendly restaurants. Take some treats and expose your puppy to the different sights, sounds, and smells. Don't forget to bring your A-Game, which includes the following, but not limited to: your encouragement, your protectiveness, your awareness, and don't forget to listen to your gut. Meaning if it just doesn't feel right, don't do it!
Some might argue that if you bring your puppy to areas such as downtown, beaches, parks, etc., they have a chance of catching a disease such as Parvo, because they haven't had all of their shots yet. This is highly unlikely, you just need to use your common sense and protect your innocent puppy. Obviously, don't let your puppy root around the dumpster, dig through trash, or jump in the lake and take a swim with some highly ambitious bacteria and parasites waiting to get their groove on.
A cool thing about taking your puppy somewhere like the park is you can learn more about your puppy and any of his fears, and then work on them.
So you might walk past a big, buff body builder doing power squats on the park table and your puppy shows signs of being afraid of him (What, your don't see this at your park often?) Okay, realistically, you encounter a larger man (or woman) or some other person that incites fear in your puppy. Blessing in disguise...you now know a fear of his and now you can 'nip it in the butt'. You could politely ask that individual if them mind giving your puppy a treat. Wallah, you have the treats, you give a few to the individual, and you encourage your puppy to get a treat from them. Now your puppy may or may not go toward the individual, that's okay. If he goes towards the individual he gets a treat and then associates the experience positively. But don't force it. If your puppy still shows signs of being afraid of that individual even when they are holding treats for them, give that person a high five and thanks, and immediately remove your puppy from the situation. At least now you know that your puppy is afraid of a certain type of person and you can work on it. Then later on down the road you won't have to leave your dog at home when you go to body building competitions because he pees himself or growls at anyone with strapping muscles. ;)
Pleasure vs. Pain
Positive Dog Training - Train your puppy with pleasure - positivity and play training. Reward positive interactions with scrumptious treats and/or a play sessions such as tug-of-war so he’ll form positive associations with these experiences. Please do not physically "punish", yell at, or discipline your puppy if he acts fearful. This could cause him to form a negative association with that situation and make socialization more difficult for everyone involved.
As your puppy is going through life, you will find certain situations that he is afraid of and by detecting this early on, you can work on it with them. It's easier to prevent a behavioral problem than to fix it later on. We call this Preventative Maintenance.
Don't Bring Your Puppy to a Dog Park!!!
For the love of dog, please do not bring your small, helpless, impressionable, puppy to a dog park! It can be overwhelming and way too much stimuli for a puppy. And this is where many owners bring their dogs to test if the dog they just got is aggressive or not. No matter how amazing you are at protecting your puppy, you do not want to take the chance of your puppy becoming a victim of this or even becoming so overwhelmed that they become afraid of other dogs and people.
Be careful when choosing the situations to put your puppy in. If you see your dog is fearful or upset, immediately remove him from the situation and you can work on that in a safe setting.
What to Do When the Situation Turns Negative
You should not force or keep your puppy in a fearful situation. It's not "Tough Love"; it's counterproductive and can leave long lasting effects. If you see your dog getting nervous, upset, or fearful, you can work on those things later on in a safe setting like your house.
For example, say you are at the park with your puppy and another dog and owner walk by. The older dog wants to play but is a bit overbearing for your puppy and your puppy shows signs of fear. You want to redirect this experience. Do something such as getting excited, clapping your hands, "woooooing" (yes you get to be a Woo-Girl) to get his attention and then get them out of the situation. Have you ever seen a little kid fall and the parents get all excited, clap, and hoot and holler all crazy like? Same idea. It takes their mind off of the "pain" or scary situation.
You don't want your puppy to freak out and be scarred from any experience. Definitely do not keep your puppy in the situation and pet him and tell him "it's okay"..."good boy"...or anything like this. Your puppy will think he is doing something good and may think that it's okay or even good for him to be scared. While we think we are helping our dog out here, we are actually encouraging him to be afraid because he associates your praise with his current behavior.
Puppy See, Puppy Do
It's an Pawesome idea to socialize your puppy with other puppies! A good environment is puppy classes - but do your research first. Make sure it's a good organization. They even have early Puppy Socialization Classes, just do a google search for your area.
Put your puppy in situations where he can get good experiences with other puppies. Other puppies can teach your puppy the basics such as how to greet other dogs, how to interact and play, and etcetera.
Dogs are descendants of wolves. Playing with the other wolves in the pack is an integral part of a pup's upbringing. Within a wolf pack, playing helps teach pups things such as their rank and role in the pack, survival, and how to act and interact in certain situations. Having a puppy play with other puppies can teach him a lot.
Playing with other puppies can help your puppy learn some limits. For example, say your puppy is playing and play bites another puppy who yelps out. Your puppy learns that this level of biting was too rough, too far and he will learn to take it down a notch or two. If your puppy did this to an older dog, the older dog might attack him in defense. We don't want to risk this!
Be Your Dog's Parent
Normally we get puppies at around 8 weeks old, which if you think about it is really young. You are taking him away from his mother, so in turn you need to become his mother (or father) and protect him. If you puppy is overwhelmed, nervous, or scared in any situation, immediately take them out of it and redirect it to a positive experience.
Be your puppy's leader and cheerleader. If he does something positive, overreact and celebrate it. You may feel a bit silly, but your puppy will remember this and associate the experience with positivity. They will know exactly why they are being a "good dog" and learn to repeat this behavior.