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!
What does it mean to socialize your puppy? It probably means different things to different people. Some may think socialization means introducing your puppy to other dogs; some may think it means socialization means introducing your puppy to other people; and other may think it means introducing your puppy to other animals. All of this is correct, but socialization means so much more.
Socializing your puppy to other humans and other dogs is very important and should begin as soon as possible. Depending on who you ask you will get a different time frame as to when you should socialize your puppy. But generally socialization should occur between 3 and 20 weeks.
But what does it mean to socialize your puppy to other humans? It isn’t just walking by different people; different genders; different races; or letting different people come up to and pet your puppy. Yes, you need to do this, but you also need to make sure those people are wearing ball caps, or cowboy hats; that they have beards or are bald; they are wearing dresses or shorts.
Dogs have what we call hypersensitivity. This means that dogs are able to see more detail than people do; people tend to see in whole pictures, dogs see parts. So when a person sees another person, no matter if they are wearing a hat, beard, or cowboy boots, they still know and identify the image as a person. A dog; however, sees every part. A dog sees a weird looking think on a person’s head (a hat); they see s shiny object at the top of a person (a bald head); or an unidentifiable furry object on a person’s face (beard). Dogs cannot generalize these items as being part of a person. Because of this, they can be scary to dogs.
Therefore, it is not only important to introduce your puppy to as many different people as possible, but also different features that a person might have, including different types of clothing and accessories. Your puppy may be used to, and love, your Uncle Bob. However, one day Uncle Bob comes over and your puppy seems terrified of him and you just can’t figure it out. Well it was really cold that day and Uncle Bob walked in wearing a winter hat and scarf, something your puppy was never introduced too; she could not figure out what was attacking Uncle Bob’s head and neck!
Socializing your puppy to as many different people as possible, in as many different situations as possible, and wearing as many different accessories as possible, will lessen the chance your puppy will be fearful as she grows up.
You need to introduce her slowly, at a pace she is comfortable with. You need to watch your puppy for any signs of distress. Socialization should always be a great experience for your puppy, she needs to enjoy it or it will backfire. For instance, before Uncle Bob comes in wearing the hat and scarf, let your puppy see and smell them; let her sniff them until she is no longer interested. Then have Uncle Bob come in wearing them, maybe one at a time if you think she might be frightened.
Next week I will discuss socializing your puppy to other dogs.