Monday, August 2, 2010
Socialization---A Marathon Not A Sprint
All dogs benefit from socialization and exposure. Whether you have a young puppy or have adopted an adult dog, socialization should be an ongoing process their entire life. We should continue to provide our dog with a variety experiences to enrich their lives from puppyhood through adulthood. A young puppy who has limited exposure to the outside world, meets few if any strangers, etc., will NOT grow up to be a confident, well adjusted adult dog. He will most likely be fearful of new situations, strange people, strange dogs, loud noises, etc. The following information will give you some guidelines to following while your puppy is young to build his confidence and help him feel comfortable and confident in his ever changing world.
Most people are unaware of how important early socialization is for their young puppy. The first 18 weeks of your puppies life are the time when critical first impressions are made. If your puppy has a positive experience he will remember it always, unfortunately the same can be true for negative experiences. We want our puppy to meet a variety of people, visit a lot of different environments, walk on many different surfaces, etc. We do, however, want to use caution with our young puppy, so as not to overwhelm them in our attempt to “Socialize” them. The key to success is working at a pace that allows your puppy to feel safe and comfortable. You never want to force your puppy into a situation that makes him feel anxious or fearful. When taking your puppy out and about, keep it short and sweet. A young puppy can not handle a marathon outing of being dragged from place to place, meeting tons of people, being over handled by strangers, etc. Your outings should be based on your puppies age and temperament. For young puppies 8-12 weeks 10-15 minutes a few times per week should suffice. If your puppy seems fearful or apprehensive, back off and try again another day. If he is having a wonderful time, still stop at 10-15 minutes, call it a day, and head home. Being able to end your outings on a “High Note” is the best way to ensure success.
Here are some suggestions for ways to expose your puppy to new situations:
- Walk your puppy in a new environment and offer treats, he will associate the treat with the new situation
- Ask people to CALMLY greet your puppy and offer him a treat
- Walk your puppy on a variety of surfaces and offer treats as he moves about. You can even drop small treats on the ground for him to pick up as he walks.
- For situations that may make your puppy nervous, stand a good distance away, allow him to observe as you offer him treats. NEVER force him to approach something that makes him nervous or fearful. You may have to work him at a distance for a few sessions until he feels ready to approach someone or something. As his confidence builds allow him to approach when he is ready. Praise and reward him for being brave!
Who should your puppy meet?
You’ll want your puppy to meet a variety of people during the Socialization period. This includes, adults, children, seniors, men with beards, women wearing glasses, kids on bikes, boys on rollerblades, girls wearing hats, people from different ethnic backgrounds, etc. Do not encourage strangers to pick up your puppy, rather wait for your puppy to sit or at least keep all four paws on the ground and then offer a treat and some gentle petting. If everyone who greets your puppy does so in an exuberant fashion, encouraging your puppy to jump up, lick, bark, etc, this will set the stage for a lifetime of rude greeting behavior. It is always best to explain to people that you’re training your puppy and would like their help in doing so, but ask that they follow your guidelines for proper greeting behavior.
How do I Socialize my puppy with other dogs?
We do want our puppy to play with a variety of other dogs and puppies to help them develop appropriate play skills. Try to find playmates that have a solid socialization history of their own. This means puppies or dogs who enjoy dog-to-dog play, have a history of appropriate play, have never had a negative incident during play such as injuring another dog or fighting. It is cruel to turn your innocent puppy loose with a dog that plays too rough or has the potential to injure or scare your puppy. All play should be fun, productive and safe. While dog parks are the way of the future, they can be a terrifying place for a young inexperienced puppy. Do not buy into the belief that puppies need to be “toughened up” in the name of socialization, this is just not true. If you visit a Dog Park and find that the play is too rough, unsupervised, etc., do your puppy a favor and leave. One bad incident with another dog can result in reactive, fearful aggressive behavior that could last a lifetime. On the other hand, having countless positive play experiences with other dogs will help junior grow up to be the dog everyone else wants their puppy to play with!
What if your Puppy is Fearful and Anxious?
It is not uncommon for young puppies to be fearful of new situations or people, but you’ll want to start to see improvement after a few sessions. If you find that you’ve tried a few times and continue to see little improvement, seek the assistance of a Professional Dog Behavior Consultant. A fearful puppy will rarely improve without intervention and the sooner the better.
What if your Puppy acts like Tarzan?
If your puppy appears to have no fear and charges up to everyone and everything he sees, it’s time to enroll in an obedience class. While we all want a confident and social puppy, rude pushy puppies grow up to be obnoxious out of control dogs. It’s one thing to have an adorable 8 week old Labrador jump up for kisses, it’s another to have a 90 lbs Labrador knock you over. We need to teach our puppies how to interact appropriately with people and how to behave in public. It's recommended to enroll in a group puppy class as early as 10 weeks of age.
And finally, remember that Socialization is a marathon not a sprint, pace yourself. It will takes months to properly socialize your puppy so take your time and have fun!
There are many wonderful books listed in the Recommended Resources section of the K9 Home Schooling website on raising and training dogs.