Puppy class doesn’t start until 12-16 weeks old. But they come home with us at 8-9 weeks old. So there is a window of 4 weeks up to 7 weeks for a new puppy owner to take advantage of in beginning their pup’s socialization.
Socializing is at least as important as obedience. In fact, all the training in the world won’t overcome a lack of exposure to all the sights, sounds, and smells out in the “big world”.
An unsocialized pup won’t be able to concentrate and pay attention to you if they aren’t comfortable. As they grow up, they can develop phobias, become hyper, and show fear or aggression anytime you take them someplace new. A sweet pup at home can become a biter somewhere else. They can also become territorial and over protective at home.
Puppies are a lot of work. But if you put the time into them for the first 2 years, you will have an easy going companion for the rest of their lives. It is worth the effort! Puppies are like children: if you don’t have the time to give them, the money to take care of them, or the willingness to go through the difficult times, you shouldn’t try it. It is the child or the puppy that will suffer for it.
Dogs are living beings, with needs and emotions. If they don’t have your time and care, they will react with misbehaviors of every kind. That’s just the nature of life. Love isn’t measured by the cost of toys, but by the amount of time and effort you give.
I live in the country, and I was relying just a little too much on Kenai’s calm nature, only taking him out 2-3 times a week. When we began his public obedience training, he was distracted by passing cars, people coming and going, and the general noise level. That was my fault. So I had to double up on the outings: loud places for him to adjust too, and quiet places for him to practice.
If you live in the city, you won’t have to go to the extra trouble I do. Once your pup’s had their second shots, hit the road. Go places, even if they have to wait in the car while you run errands. When you come out of the store, take them out to piddle and walk around the lot or the sidewalk for 5 minutes.
Go to the park, watch kids ball games, take them to the pool, even if they have to sit outside the fence and watch. It is the noise, activity, smells, and sights that a young puppy needs to become accustomed to. This prepares them to pay attention to you and be relaxed when you take them out. And it helps them behave better at home, too. Socializing should continue their whole lives, but the first year is extremely important.
Simply taking a pup to the pet store, and only the pet store, doesn’t cover all the bases for two reasons. One, the experience doesn’t change all that much. The smells are of people, pets, and pet stuff. Not motor oil like the car show, or sweaty people like at the family reunion in July. The only splashing sounds at the pet store is of someone else having an ‘accident’.
Secondly, taking a pup only to the pet store doesn’t give them the opportunity to be exposed to something new in a new place more than once or twice. After a few visits, a pup will be “old hand” at behaving in that place, but not neccessarily in others. Puppies make associations. Like “I can run here, but not there”, or “I can chase a ball at home or the dog park, but not at my buddy’s soccer game”.
Expose a puppy to healthy, vaccinated dogs of all ages, too. Other puppies their age haven’t learned their doggie social skills either. So an older puppy or adult will be able to show them how hard it too hard, and when a dog doesn’t want to play. Let them take their lumps, too.
If your pup is out of line, most dogs will give them a nip or growl. If that doesn’t work, your pup will be knocked down and stood over. It isn’t aggressive, it is learning manners and very important. If they don’t learn their doggie manners when little, they are far more likely to be seriously injured by another dog when they are older.
Poor Kenai had his manly ego dented, being “beat up by a girl” just the other day. He has a tendency to play hard and rough, and be pushy about it. He was the biggest pup in the litter, and usually got the toy or won the tussle. He’s big enough to bully his brother BB here too. Then he met Abby, an 8 month old mix. When she’d had enough, he got put on the ground. He was more respectful of her after that.
Intervening to “protect” your pup from being disciplined by older dogs could seriously backfire later. A poorly behaved dog at a dog park will be jumped eventually. Dogs give each other signals, and a puppy needs to learn them all. There is a line between a dog putting manners on your pup and a real attack.
Watch the body language, and if the hackles are up, teeth are showing, or other dogs are avoiding that one dog, THAT is when you intervene. By backing your own pup off. Don’t pick them up and run off. Just back them up, make them sit, and let them see the dog’s body language. That way they learn this posture means leave me alone, and that you are willing and able to protect them. (Of course, if you are being charged or nearly attacked, it is time to pick up and get out).
Whether at a people event or a doggie event, your pup will watch you very intently to see how you react. If loud motorcyles don’t bother you, it becomes okay to them too. Pups will startle, jump, even spin to see. Just ignore the reaction and either get the pup to smell and investigate, or keep going like it’s no big deal.
Never “soothe” a frightened puppy. Walk through their “fears” with them, being more quiet and gentle, and encourage them to investigate what startled them. Punishing or disciplining while a pup is stressed will only stress them more and turn the experience into one they don’t wish to repeat. A scared puppy needs your confidence and kindness, but not sympathy.
PRAISE THEM WHEN THEY DON’T STARTLE OR STARTLE THEN GO CHECK IT OUT. This curiosity and the ability to regain their composure is what you want to encourage. Any movement towards what startled them should be treated and praised. Praise and affection will let them know what you want, and give them the stimulus to try it again.
Some things will cause a big fear reaction, and that needs to be dealt with. If your pup is absolutely terrified, go somewhere else and devise a plan to help them overcome what frightened them. Socialization is all about exposure and investigation, especially to things they don’t like.
Kenai is really easy going, but a skateboard freaked him out the other day. So I’m getting a skateboard for him to check out at home. I’ll encourage him to smell it, watch it move, even move it himself. Then I’m getting on it. He has to become comfortable with it enough to ingore it. As a service dog, he’s going to encounter skateboards and he can’t break his composure. Even if he was only a companion, I’d do it.
Your attitude will strongly affect your pup’s. If you are frustrated, irritable, or tense, your pup will be unsure of himself and anxious. So when you want your pup to calmly keep walking, you calmly keep walking. If you want them to happily investigate, use a happy voice and investigate with him. Puppies will mimic you. Approach is everything.
So get your pup out in the world, and make it a fun and happy place for them! Let them go where you go, and do what you do as much as possible. Look for places to take them that you don’t normally go too. Enjoy watching the wheels turn in your pup’s head–they are getting smarter every day!