Successful puppy socialization depends largely on how the animal is treated in the first character-forming weeks of her life. Some experts believe that a puppy’s personality forms by the age of fourteen to sixteen weeks. However, all experts agree that the way you treat your puppy early affects your dog’s sociability in later life.
Puppy Socialization: Do’s and Don’ts
After a puppy has been weaned, successful socialization relies on feeding the puppy a balanced diet, spending time familiarizing her with her home environment, and showing the puppy affection whenever you handle her. Above these guidelines, some general do’s and don’ts will further help you socialize your puppy.
Do be consistent and patient. The process of puppy socialization is usually easy to accomplish if it’s carried out systematically during the first few months of a puppy’s life. Undoing antisocial behavior is much harder once the dog is full-grown.
Do know where your puppy comes from. Before attempting puppy socialization, you should keep in mind your puppy’s background. Anyone taking on a stray puppy or a young puppy from a shelter should be wary of possible problems. Try to find out as much as you can about the puppy’s background and early upbringing. If your puppy did come from a shelter, proceed more slowly and cautiously with puppy socialization. Puppies from shelters have had less contact with humans and need more time to get used to it without being afraid.
Don’t leave your puppy alone for too long. One of the most common causes of poor puppy socialization is leaving a puppy alone all day. Puppies should be left alone only for very brief intervals of time. If this is not practical, consider hiring a dog-sitter. Dogs and particularly puppies become lonely and bored if left alone all day. Lack of social interaction and boredom will create canine behavioral problems and could turn your puppy into a destructive, noisy pet that annoys the neighbors.
Remember Pavlov’s Dog?
Pavlov was a researcher who used rewards to get a dog to respond to a ringing bell. Like Pavlov’s dog, puppies (and dogs in general) learn faster when they receive a reward. The lesson: rewards work better than punishments. While the best rewards are TLC and a sense of belonging, doggie treats are a close second!
How to Prepare Your Puppy for Meeting Strangers
If puppies don’t receive enough human contact early on, the results can be devastating when the dog is expected to behave appropriately around unfamiliar adults, children and other animals. A puppy deprived of socialization in the first few weeks of his life is likely to exhibit extreme fear and/or aggression. Often when a puppy feels cornered or that his territory is being invaded, he may act defensively, biting the nearest target.
Weaning time provides a great opportunity to prepare your puppy for meeting strangers. Involve responsible family members in the day-to-day care of your puppy. If you have tolerant adult dogs or cats, allow them to mingle under your supervision. Let your puppy communicate through fences with neighbors’ cats and dogs in order to engender a degree of friendship and mutual respect.
Dealing with Loud Noises
Because young puppies can be frightened of loud noises, avoid leaving them alone in a situation where there will be loud, disorienting noise. Thunderstorms, fireworks and low-flying aircraft can be particularly frightening. However, if loud noises are unavoidable, try to keep your pet in familiar surroundings. If your puppy isn’t used to these noises, she may become frightened and anxious as an adult dog whenever she hears a similar noise.
Aggression-Free Contact with Other Animals
Over the course of your puppy’s life, he will most likely come into contact with an aggressive animal. Be prepared for this by ensuring that your puppy is on a leash at all times when exercising. If your pup gets into a fight with another dog, never intercept with your bare hands. Instead, use shock tactics to split up the fight. Throw a bucket of water over them or distract them with a loud noise.
The best way to prepare your puppy for socializing with other animals without becoming fearful or aggressive is to put your puppy through obedience classes. Most dogs respond well to the controlled environment and expert instruction available in obedience courses. Alternatively, join forces with other dog owners in the neighborhood and walk your dogs together.
Tips for Raising a Social Dog
Here are some more tips to help you appropriately socialize your puppy:
- Feed your puppy at the same time each day. Regular mealtimes and set routines will help your puppy feel more settled. Never feed your puppy scraps from your dining table.
- Designate a specific area for paper training.
- Provide a teething puppy with chew toys to prevent them from biting people, animals, your furniture or whatever else he can sink his teeth into!
- Curb your puppy’s natural instinct to chase cars or other animals by keeping your pet on a leash at all times when out in public. Restrain any attempts to bolt by pulling the leash sharply and using your established “No!” command.
- Exercise puppies regularly to use up their excess energy. Regular exercise also helps them to release any stress or anxiety they may be holding in.
- Always offer rewards for good behavior. Positive reinforcement promotes good behavior.
- Don’t reward jumping up on people even if done in affection. Jumping up is not acceptable and should be decisively discouraged at all times.
Allay boredom with lots of doggie toys. Your puppy is less likely to engage in destructive behavior if he has a stash of chew toys to distract him.