Starting Down the Right Path with Puppy Socialization
By Susan Garlinghouse DVM
One of the most important steps to having a great adult dog is to provide thorough puppy socialization, especially during the critical learning stages between 7 – 16 weeks. Puppies develop much of their personality and confidence in their world during their early life, so exposing them to lots of new, positive experiences is an important step towards a happy and self-assured adult.
Right from the Get-Go
Starting as early as possible, expose your puppy to new sounds, sights, smells, textures and people. Early lessons can be simple experiences such as walking over new surfaces—newspaper or a piece of plastic. Every member of the family should handle ears, mouth and paws. Early ‘grooming’ lessons include gentle brushing, rubbing your finger along the gums and using an emery board on little toenails.
Keep each session short—a minute or two per lesson at first, increasing as they grow older and more confident, with frequent sessions every day. The more time invested as a puppy, the more enjoyable he will be as an adult family member, regardless of breed, size or gender.
During this period, also start travel training. Puppies are less likely to get carsick if they haven’t eaten for four hours beforehand, and are contained safely in a familiar carrier or someone’s arms (other than the driver’s). Start with very short excursions, just around the block, gradually increasing time and distance. A carrier with a familiar blanket inside, a doggy carseat for small breeds or harnesses clipped into the seatbelt are all great ways to limit movement, but should be introduced gradually over time. For pups that chronically vomit, try giving a tiny bit of Dramamine at 1 mg per pound of body weight about an hour before the outing.
As the puppy grows, introduce more experiences outside the home, being careful to avoid public areas where sick animals may have been. While young and relatively small, carrying the pup in your arms, in a doggy stroller or shopping cart in dog-friendly stores is safer than walking on a leash until older and fully vaccinated. Friend’s homes, puppy classes and running short errands are all potential new learning experiences. Especially in breeds with pendulous ears, this is a good time to obtain an ear cleaner for dogs and squirt a bit into each ear canal on a regular basis to familiarize them with this routine procedure.
Let’s Go Meet Everybody – Puppy Socialization
A good rule of thumb in puppy socialization is that the little one should be introduced to a hundred different people by six months of age, including gently handling of the ears, muzzle and paws. These meet-and-greets are all about calm behavior, so no rough-housing or wild play. Use lots of praise in a high, happy voice (remember, dogs aren’t fluent in English, but instinctively respond to the tone of your voice) and the occasional high-value treat for accepting new friends. Use care in allowing young children to hold your young dog—-an accidental frightening drop, even without injury, can result in long-lasting fear of strangers or strange places.
Never physically discipline a puppy (or adult dog) for anxiety, as this will only exacerbate the issue. If your puppy is fearful and reassurance doesn’t help, withdraw for the day. Allow him to calm and regroup and then offer a less challenging stimuli to end the day on a good note. Just like people, dogs can be overwhelmed by too much, too soon, and might need a slower approach to learning about the big, wide world.
As with all things, be consistent, kind and committed to the goal of socializing your new family member. Doing so will pay excellent dividends in the future as your pup matures to a calm and confident adult.