Puppy Socialization New Rules – Did Your Dog Pass the Test?

by Mary Haight on July 9, 2011

puppy socializationPuppy socialization is as important to dogs as kindergarten is to children. Surprised? Kindergarten teaches children to get along with others, to look to their teachers for guidance when confused and begin the process of learning how to make friends, and what is socially acceptable. Puppy socialization teaches your dog to get comfortable in new environments, with new experiences, other dogs, new situations,  people and what is socially acceptable. Puppy socialization, when done by a well-qualified and experienced dog trainer helps ensure that fear and aggression do not become part of how your dog reacts to new and unfamiliar situations as he grows.

Puppy socialization needs to start much earlier than many thought – current studies reveal that early socialization saves dogs lives by ensuring they have the foundation needed to cope and be comfortable in the human family over the course of a lifetime.  Early socialization can make the difference between a well-adjusted dog and one that ends up in a shelter because they are shy, fearful, aggressive or biters with no sense of boundaries.

Bicycles coming up fast from behind, whizzing traffic, horns honking, sirens wailing, trains, skateboards, tons of other dogs, kids running and shouting, all are experiences that could cause a dog with no early formative exposures to go down a path that leads to fearful aggression. The real tragedy here is that dogs’ brains start closing the door on accepting new experiences as non-threatening around 4 months and many people wait too long to begin this process.

Okay, you say, puppy socialization is really important, but what about disease – isn’t that why breeders and families with puppies never dared get together to play with other families with puppies? Why isn’t that a legitimate concern now?

Vaccines are far more effective now than they were decades ago. When you have healthy puppies who have all been wormed and had some vaccinations get together to play, teach each other, and be guided by an expert you are preparing your puppy to become his best self.  It’s  important  to help your dog learn to be socialized when his brain is ready to be imprinted with these lessons. There are windows of time for optimal learning, and puppy socialization is no different.  You should start classes at 7 to 8 weeks old, according to the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior.  They say at least one set of shots should be given 7 days prior to joining a puppy socialization class – and that’s a minimum – and the first de-worming should be completed.

To be clear, no one is recommending taking puppies to dog parks or other high-risk places. And no one recommends that you force your puppy into situations he cannot handle – that’s where the experts come in.  Many puppy socialization classes are given inside vet hospitals and special areas in training facilities that are appropriately disinfected after each session in my area. Not all places are so lucky.

Enter Operation Socialization.  Eric Goebelbecker interviewed founder Ariana Kincaid who has wisely put together a program where local businesses, experienced dog trainers, and families with puppies can work together to provide safe environments for puppy socialization and also help lessen the natural fears pet parents have of diseases like parvovirus. Kincaid talks about some interesting inventive programs. One example makes a game of puppy socialization, and it involves a passport! It made me laugh out loud! Listen to the podcast and read Eric’s post at Animal Cafe.

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