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.

7 comments
Pamela
Pamela

Having adopted my earlier dogs from shelters, I'm getting to see the benefits of socialization first hand with Honey. I agree with Hanna that a patient and committed person can do a lot to help some adult dogs become more comfortable over time. But it's a much harder process. And, it doesn't work for all dogs. As I watch Honey grow up, I suspect she would have become a fearful dog without proper socialization. She's very "soft" and definitely lives on the cautious side of the personality bell curve. I feel very thankful for the good start she got in life.

Janet
Janet

Great reminder. Whilst being cautious about disease is understandable, I suspect more young dogs die as a consequence of not being adequately socialised than do from contracting parvo, distemper etc as young puppies. Choosing the places carefully minimises the disease risk and protects puppies from risks associated with poor socialisation. I always take puppies out immediately (from 7-8 weeks) - not only to special socialisation classes, but carrying them out in the street, the park, the car etc. I never put them on the ground outside but they sit on my knee and watch the world go by, experiencing sights and sounds - not risk free but I think the benefits outweigh the risks.

Hanna
Hanna

I believe that most dog owners will not argue that socializing puppies as early in their lives as possible is the most responsible thing to do for the benefit of the dogs as well as their human owners. However, I wish that there was also a mention of socialization of older dogs. After all, “You can’t teach an old new tricks” is myth that’s been refuted for a long time now. Unless they are senile or mentally deficient, dogs of all ages can be trained to become more socially adjusted among their own species as well as humans. As a matter of fact, more dogs that are adopted from shelters or rescue organizations are adults that have never been socialized in their younger years but it’s never too late!

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