"Puppies have a limited 'optimal' socialization window, birth thru 16 weeks of age. During those early weeks we have the opportunity to slowly and positively expose a puppy to everything that comes their way. After 16 weeks they are genetically preprogrammed to become wary of new things, making it much harder to shape them into an easygoing , friendly adult dog" (Operation Socialization)
Having clearly identified that puppies need early socialization, how do we safely achieve that?
Start with a Vet check
When your puppy arrives, you should schedule a visit with your Veterinarian. Your puppy should be fully examined, you're checking for any medical problems, parasites, both internal and external and establishing a vaccination schedule.
Enroll in an appropriate Puppy Class
Healthy puppies can begin training in an appropriate Puppy Class as early as 10 weeks of age.
How do you find the right Puppy Class?
When selecting an appropriate Puppy Class, start by picking one that's run by an experienced trainer who uses only Humane Reward Based Training! Anyone can call themselves a 'trainer', you're looking for someone with credentials and experience to back it up. You want a small class, preferably no larger than 6 puppies to provide appropriate supervision and safety. Avoid large 'Puppy Socialization Classes' that typically have 10-15 puppies, this is a nightmare for puppies in so many ways. K9 Home Schooling offers a specialized puppy class called Pup Start, it is for puppies 10-16 weeks of age. This four week class helps you and your puppy get off to a great start!
What if your puppy is not ready for a group class?
Not all puppies are appropriate for a group class, due to health or temperament issues. If your puppy has a health condition that prevents them for participating in a group class, work with your Veterinarian and a professional trainer to come up with appropriate accommodations. I once had a clients whose puppy broke his leg at 10 weeks of age. The family used a baby stroller to take the puppy on walks to expose him to new sights and sounds.
If your puppy is fearful, nervous and or reactive around other dogs then a group class may not be the best choice. Working with a trainer who can help you understand these behavioral issues is the first step to helping your puppy. It's important to remember, you have limited time, 0-16 weeks, so waiting until 6-9 months to address the problem will only make it worse and possibly impact your puppy for the rest of their life.
I recently had a 4 month old puppy attend class who was very fearful of other dogs. Seeing another dog, even hearing them, caused lunging, barking, growling, clearly a terrifying experience for her. It was noted that she had come from a bad situation and had been injured in what appeared to be a dog attack before she was 3 months of age. I first assessed her one-on-one and determined that we could try having her attend a group class with a few accommodations. These included having her in an x-pen in a quiet corner of the training center. Having her in the x-pen allowed her to be off leash which made her feel less restricted and stressed. We placed blankets over the sides to restrict her view so that she would not become visually fixated on the other dogs, this decreased her reactive behavior by about 95%. As the weeks went by she made remarkable progress. Towards the end of a 6 week class she was able to work inside of her x-pen, with no visual restriction and she was welcoming 'nose sniffs' through the x pen from other dogs in class. Her progress was the result of committed owners and a training program that fit her special needs. There is no 'one size fits all' when it comes to training puppies.
Whats the best way to start socializing a puppy?
Socialization is ongoing, it does not happen in 1 or 2 sessions or walks in the park, it's happening every minute of every day, so make every minute count. A good socialization program includes exposing your puppy to new sights, sounds, people, places and dogs, in a way that allows them to feel safe and comfortable. First impressions are critical, both good and bad.
Why should puppies have play dates?
Puppies need ongoing socialization, this should go on well into their 2nd year of life. Playing with other puppies/dogs is critical for their development. A well socialized puppy is comfortable and confident with other dogs, and will reap the rewards for a lifetime. Through play, puppies learn how to navigate social interactions with other dogs, both good and bad. I often find that my puppies have the best play experiences with well socialized adult dogs who enjoy playing with puppies.
Where should puppies play?
It's important to play in 'clean' environments so avoiding public dog parks and day cares for young puppies is advisable, this includes playing with dogs who frequent these places.
We offer a variety of classes for puppies from our Level 1 Obedience Class thru Outdoor Socialization Outings. Check our website for details.