Socialization - A Time Sensitive Gift To Your Puppy
Many of us will find ourselves giving gifts to our dogs and puppies this holiday season. But if you have a puppy or will be getting one soon, please consider giving the very inexpensive but most important gift of all – early and appropriate socialization. This is a gift that is best given when your puppy is between 8 and 16 weeks old.
Window Of Opportunity
Puppies under 12 weeks of age are especially receptive to novel experiences. When they are exposed appropriately to these experiences they tend to more comfortable and less stressed with these elements when they encounter them later. We do of course want them to be comfortable and confident canine citizens. We would like them to see the world as a fun place to explore and early socialization increases the likelihood that this will occur. If during this early and critical period of development they are not carefully exposed to a wide variety of situations, objects, and experiences there is an increased likelihood of behavioral issues forming such as fear and aggression. If the puppy reaches 18 weeks of age and has not been properly socialized the chances are much higher that he will respond fearfully to novel experiences.
What constitutes “proper” socialization? Proper socialization doesn’t mean just throwing your puppy in the deep end and hoping he learns to swim before he sinks! It means keeping the experiences positive and happy ones for your puppy.
While early socialization is vital, it is also vital that you put your puppy at as little risk as you can. Although there is some controversy concerning vaccines, they do offer some protection. However, they are NOT a guarantee against infectious disease. It is best to discuss these issues with a vet you trust. And never let your puppy sniff another dog’s feces or urine. Keep in mind that while you want your puppy to be safe, you also want him to be a well-adjusted companion. Too many dogs end up in shelters, in part because they have not been properly socialized.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has a concise statement of their position as well as references for further reading on the subject.
Here are some of the experiences that your puppy should have before he is 18 weeks old.
- A car ride
- People of different ages and races
- People in uniform
- People with hats, scarves, mittens and bulky jackets
- Children playing, light traffic and crowds of varying sizes
- Vacuum cleaners
- The sights and sounds of plastic bags
- Brooms and mops in use
- A positive experience or two at the vet’s office
- A trip to the groomer (not necessarily to be groomed but to experience the sounds and smells)
- A nail clipping or grinding
- City-sights and sounds as well as country-sights and sounds
- Ceiling fans
- People using wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes
- Other (safe) dogs and puppies
- Baby strollers and baby swings
- Playground noises
- People in costumes
Have I Missed Anything?
Of course I have, because the list is limitless! And while this may seem like a daunting task, remember that the rewards will last a lifetime.
Dr.Ian Dunbar recommends that your puppy meet 100 new people within their first three months of life. For those of you who are introverts, this may be more challenging. Consider throwing a “puppy party” or hanging out at the entrance to a mall with a few treats. Puppies always garner attention and you are sure to reach that “100 people” point fairly quickly.
Are Puppy Classes A Good Idea?
Typically a puppy class will afford a puppy the opportunity to experience safely a wide variety of experiences. In this way they can acquire the skills that are needed to become that well-adjusted, confident and happy member of the family we are all hoping for. However there are health risks to consider. Again, vaccinations do NOT guarantee protection. So it is necessary to weigh the many advantages of a well- run puppy class with the potential risks. However, with the many advances in vaccines combined with a well run puppy program where vaccinations are required, you can minimize the health risks while maximizing the chances that your puppy will become a cherished, confident, well-behaved family member.
Socialization is a gift you can give to your puppy that will keep on giving for a lifetime.