Puppy Socialization - Part 2
Most people know that you need to socialize puppy with other dogs. Puppies go through a socialization period which usually begins at around 3 weeks of age. During the socialization period, a puppy’s eyes fully open and they have complete visual capacity. Their ears also open during this period. Because they are now able to hear and see, they begin to venture away from their mother and explore. They also begin to form social relations, usually with their litter mates. If a puppy is taken away from his litter mates too soon, they may not develop appropriate social skills.
During the socialization period, puppies begin to play with their litter mates; the skills learned from this play are essential for proper socialization skills when the puppies get older. They learn how to communicate with each other, how to interpret signals, and how to offer signals. This signals are used to help control aggression in adult dogs. Eventually the puppy will be taken away from his mom and his litter. It is important not to stop the socialization at this point.
You must continually socialize your puppy with other dogs, and other animals, even as they are becoming adults. However, it is important to do this properly. You do not want to reverse the benefits achieved from early socialization. Many people will bring their young pup to a dog park to socialization him. This could have some negative effects. If you have ever been to a dog park, you know that there is usually a greeting party consisting of many of the dogs already enjoying the dog park. This can be overwhelming for a young puppy. Even if he was properly socialized with his litter mates, it was unlikely he was every exposed to this type of greeting party! This may cause a puppy to be fearful of dogs.
If you really want to go to the dog park, I recommend finding a time when the dog park is almost empty (preferably completely empty so you can first introduce your puppy to the dog park). Do not bring your puppy in on a leash. A leash will prevent your puppy from fleeing if it is frightened. Puppies also have the “fight or flight” response; if they can’t flee, they will fight. You do not want to teach that.
A better way to socialize your puppy to other dogs is to set up a play date with another dog you know to be calm and socialized. Let them go up to each other and sniff each other, that is how they greet each other. Let them sniff, let them play, let them roll around, but watch for any signs of distress.
Another way to continue socialization is by simply taking walks with your puppy. If you are just beginning socialization walk by another dog and watch your puppy to see how he reacts. If there is no distress, and the other dog is friendly, again, let them say hi and sniff each other.
You do not want to force interaction between your puppy and another puppy or dog. Socialization should be enjoyable, the minute it becomes less than enjoyable, it is no longer socialization, it becomes a forced interaction. This can lead to fear and aggression.
Continued socialization is essential, even when a puppy becomes a dog!
Next week I will discuss socializing your puppy to different sounds, surfaces, and smells!