Do you feel the world is shouting, "SOCIALIZE YOUR PUPPY" to you or suffer the consequences?
So much information is available about puppy socialization in the 21st century that most people take it for granted that they know what to do when they get a puppy.
But for those that are just starting out with a new canine friend, there is quite a bit of pressure to make sure the puppy is exposed to as many stimuli –different people, animals, places and things all before the puppy turns 12 weeks of age.
Whether you consider it to be pressure, a challenge to accomplish, or an unattainable tall order, you are not alone.
In the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 77.8 million pet dogs that live in 54.4 million households, and each of these owners was faced with the same dilemma.
Animal behaviorists provide detailed lists of what you should do with the puppy to assure that his critical socialization period is effective.
According to the VSAB American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior,
Some well-meaning people will go over the top to assure their dog is well socialized.
They find every dog-friendly walking path in town and try them all out. They visit the local dog park.
They know about a dog-friendly event and plan to attend for the day. They visit farmers’ markets, craft fairs, local events, and everything that is likely to be populated with huge numbers of people and animals.
These people have heard that they should visit groomers, vet hospitals, pets store, boarding kennels, and anywhere else they know other dogs will be.
They hope that any person or dog will interact with their puppy, and if that doesn’t happen, then it is off to sign up for puppy kindergarten classes.
These people are so adamant about socializing their dog that they tend to be outspoken to friends and family.
On the other side, some people feel guilty because they haven’t participated in all of these events.
Will their dog be forever doomed and labeled “poorly socialized?”
They argue that the puppy’s addition to the family is placing new demands on them and adding to their workload. They may feel as though they should be doing all of these things, but where will they find the time.
For the majority of people getting a puppy, just the thought of bringing home a new puppy, accustoming it to sleeping through the night, potty training, teaching manners and basic commands is time-consuming in and of itself.
Let us not forget that puppies like to eat three times a day and need to go out every few hours; new owners may feel a little overwhelmed.
Everyone has their own ideas about how to raise a puppy, so as you are trying to accomplish all of this, your partner or children or well-meaning friends many have other ideas and aren’t afraid to let you know all the things you are doing wrong.
Your best-laid plans for being the perfect canine parent get compromised at every step of the way.
Maybe you think that it might have just been easier to have a human baby instead of a dog?
Is there any practical way to accomplish all of this without losing your mind or harming your dog?
A Resounding Yes.
Socializing your puppy is a very personal thing. Each puppy, each breed is unique, and a one size fits all plan is impractical and potentially dangerous to your dog.
Take the dog that is naturally reserved around strangers for example.
Put that dog in a crowded outdoor flea market where every child wants to pet him, every dog wants to sniff him, there are new smells everywhere, loud talking, babies crying, loud music playing, well you get the picture.
Putting that dog in such a situation without any warning is not going to socialize him-– it is going to terrorize him.
What will he do? He’s likely to withdraw and try to hide or lash back aggressively. At this point, you haven’t accomplished anything except make the matter worse.
Even puppies that are naturally friendly around strangers can get overwhelmed by this situation or many of the others listed earlier.
Those that consider dog parks, busy metro parks, or crowded pet stores as a good place to socialize is going under the impression that more is better. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The better way to socialize is to work slowly towards events such as these. Start with basics and then move on, baby step by baby step.
Pat Hastings, the AKC judge and author of Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development, included Pat Schaap Rule of 7’s.
This suggests that by the time a puppy is seven weeks old, they should have
Pat’s recommendations were aimed at breeders working with their puppies before sending them to their forever homes.
It is vital for breeders to provide these experiences because these dogs are likely to adjust faster to their new environments.
Since most people, however, do not get a puppy younger than 8 weeks of age, it is important to provide guidelines for new owners wishing to socialize their puppy.
In 2002, Margaret Hughes from Positive Paws Dog Training, adapted Pat Schaap’s Rule of 7’s to expand it to 12 weeks of age.
She recommended that by 12-weeks old, puppies should have had these 12 experiences by the time the puppy is 12 weeks old.
She goes on to say that if the puppy is already 12 weeks old, they should start immediately to accomplish all of this.
In order to train your puppy you need to teach the puppy to focus on you or pay attention to you. Likewise, you need to train yourself to focus on the puppy.
This means learning to read the puppy's emotions and body language so you can gauge what she can comfortably manage.
Puppies show stress in a number of ways:
When socializing your puppy you want to provide new experiences for her, but you don't want to overwhelm her with undue stress.
As you provide something new, stop and observe the puppy's expressions. If she is happy, excited and focused on the experience, that is a good indication that you are doing something right.
On the other hand, if she is showing any signs of stress, stop and resume another day.
These small steps can build your puppy’s confidence so that when they do venture out, there are not so many new things to absorb.
But they must be done positively so the puppy associates a new experience as something pleasant rather than something to fear.
Take for example a man in a strange hat. He meets and gives a puppy a treat, the puppy’s brain will register the connection
positively. This puppy will not have a problem meeting men in strange hats.
If that man in a strange hat yells at the puppy, the puppy
is going to connect men in hats as being something to fear.
I recommend reading a book or two about puppy socialization and training before you bring your new dog home. Here are a couple of my favorites.
Dr. Yin tells the story of how she trained her father's dog through hundreds of photos and easy methods that you can use too.
Not only does the author talk about how to socialize your puppy, but also training life skills and basic commands are covered. This is an excellent book for first time and experienced dog owners.
This is a great addition to any dog owner's library, but especially for those interested in clicker training.
It covers much more than puppy socialization and provides information on problem solving for dogs throughout their life span.
At 200 pages, it is a quick read, but one you will refer back to time and time again.
Dr. McConnell makes puppy training easy through step by step approaches to all the basic commands.
But, I also like this book because she spends time showing you how and why you need to socialize your puppy.
At only 117 pages, you can read it in one setting and then go back and practice, practice, practice.