Experts used to advise new puppy parents to keep their 8-week-old bundles of joy home until they were four to six months old. So, for the first two to four months, puppies had no experience with the “real world,” like walking on different surfaces, interacting with other animals or people with big hats, big coats, umbrellas, or who weren’t their owners. Even veterinarians advised no contact with the outside world until a puppy had received all his vaccinations.
This led to many under-socialized puppies and ultimately, to increased behavioral problems, including fear and aggression. Behavioral problems are the primary reason dogs are surrendered to shelters, and the odds are greater that a dog will be euthanized for serious behavioral problems than that he will develop parvovirus or kennel cough.
Today, progressive veterinarians and many dog trainers recommend exposing your puppy to a variety of experiences during that critical six to sixteen-week socialization period. A recent study in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association found that puppies who received their first round of vaccinations and attended puppy classes were at no greater risk of parvovirus infection than were vaccinated puppies who did not attend those classes. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorhas found that the standard of care for puppies should be to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.
So today science doesn’t support the old concerns and, in fact, now points to the importance of getting your puppy out early and familiarizing him with the sounds, smells, and sights outside the walls of your home, as a critical part of puppy socialization.
Socialization isn’t only about exposure to other animals, people and places. To puppies, the whole world is new, so everything encounter an opportunity to make a new, positive association. Expose your puppy to as much as you can without overwhelming him. For example: walking on carpet, hardwood, tile, and linoleum floors; meeting older people, younger people, the letter carrier, people wearing sunglasses or carrying crutches. Take small treats along to reinforce those positive associations. Let your puppy observe, go slowly and always give him “an out” so he doesn’t feel stuck.
During this sensitive period, your puppy should also be learning good behaviors. A head start training class can have many long-term benefits. Here are tips to help you help your pup through this important life stage:
1. Commit to socializing your puppy, and then do it early. Don’t procrastinate; you don’t have much time!
2. Stay aware of your pup’s body language and remove him from trouble if he looks stressed. Avoid negative experiences at all costs.
3. Enroll in a well-run, positive puppy class where you both can socialize with others and have a good time together. Choose a class that emphasizes having fun while learning new things.
4. Fit your puppy with a good body harness that gets pressure off the neck. Never use a choke or pinch/prong collar on a puppy, or on any dog for that matter.
Socialization, teaching good behaviors and life skills using praise and rewards, and lots of patience will launch your puppy on a secure and happy path.
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is the Founder and CEO of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award winning, premier canine training and learning center — offering classes and private lessons in puppy training and socialization, adult dog manners, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning and pet selection. Classes starting soon! Visit our websiteto enroll in our programs, and like us on Facebookand follow us on Instagram.