Puppy Socialization, what is that?
Puppy socialization means exposing your puppy to new things, dogs and people on a regular basis. Over the years that I have been working with people to train their dogs, I have found that there is a misconception about what socialization is. Most people feel that if their dog is playing with the same friends dog regularly that she is socializing. However, that isn’t puppy socialization. It is puppy playtime, yes, but socialization actually ends once the dog is comfortable with the new dog, person, place or thing.
So, how do you socialize your puppy?
I have found that the best way for new puppy owners to socialize their puppy is through a Puppy Class that focuses on socialization and handling. If they can throw in a few basic manners in there as well that is good too but mostly need socialization and handling. It is known that a class that offers an enhanced environment is also key to improving the quality of socialization in the class.
What about experienced puppy owners?
If you are an experienced puppy owner than you will have insight on how to socialize your puppy safely. You can socialize your puppy by going to the pet store(carry the puppy if she doesn’t have all of her shots yet). Organize a puppy playdate with local pet owners whom your puppy has not met before. Utilize a doggy daycare if one is close by. Keep your puppy exploring new things, dogs, people, and environments.
Is there such a thing as too much socialization?
Actually, in today’s fast-paced society, it is almost impossible to socialize a puppy fully due to lack of time. This is why socialization is so important to focus on during the first 6 months of age. Lack of socialization can cause your dog to become fearful. Fear can sometimes turn into aggression if not addressed properly. Knowing who to socialize your timid puppy with and how to introduce them safely is important. However, it is also important to know how dogs communicate with each other. It is perfectly ok for a dog to tell another dog to leave them alone. This is done with a quick snap in that dog’s direction. A socialized dog will understand that these means leave her alone. However, an under-socialize dog could retaliate and this can turn into a fight.
What should we do if our dog doesn’t back off when told?
Intervene immediately. Take the dog to the side and give him a short break. You need to intervene as he retaliates so make sure you are watching your dog like a hawk. Getting him out of the situation as quickly as possible is ideal to prevent a fight from breaking out.
If my dog is the one telling the other dog to back off, what are the signs that she is going too far?
When a dog tells another dog to back off all they need to do is a quick snap in that direction and retreat. If the dog snaps more than once, lunges, chases etc then it is too far. If your dog is going too far just intervene and remove them from the situation.
What do I do if they get into a fight?
The safest way to break up fighting puppies is the wheelbarrow method. Each owner gets in behind their puppy, grab them by the back legs and walk backward. This removes the dogs from each other and they can’t redirect to you. If you grab them by the collar there is a chance of redirected aggression. This means that in the heat of the moment they bite anything within reach. Dogs don’t normally know who they are biting when they redirect so don’t take it personally.
So, outside of doggy daycare and training classes, how else can an owner socialize their dog?
Take your dog for lots of outings. Places that can provide your dog with exposure to many many new people, dogs, things. Not sure about other places but here in Saskatoon area we have a large variety of options for socialization.
To name a few:
- Pet Stores
- Peavey Mart
- Canadian Tire
- Travelodge/pet-friendly hotels (has your dog been in an elevator yet? Around a busy pool?)
- Prairie Sun Brewery-go for a drink with a friend and bring your dog!
- Dutch Growers
- The Gap
- Floral Acres
- End of the Roll
- Prairie Lane Wedding
- Dog Parks(for social dogs. Not for training.)
Honestly, the list of dog-friendly places can go on and on. We are so fortunate to live in a place that allows well-mannered dogs into their establishments. Most of these places are for dogs who are quiet and is polite. So it is important to start with training classes and work your way to this point.
What if my puppy lunges, barks, snaps, growls at other dogs when on a leash?
When this happens the reason can be one of two. This can be an over-reaction due to being fearful. They just want the dog to go away. If the dog is not fearful, it could be a self-control issue. The best way to work with self-control issues is to keep them tired. This can be a daunting task if you have a high energy dog. Tired dogs are good dogs. Remember, to fully tire a dog out you have to provide them with mental stimulation as well as physical stimulation. Provide your dog with interactive toys. Feed your dog meals using a kong(put his meals in there, mix up with kong paste or peanut butter, freeze. Keeps your dog busy for hours). There is no rule saying you have to feed your dog using a bowl. With puppies, it has actually been recommended to hand feed your dog. This means using your dogs’ meals for training. They have to work for everything they get. For most puppies, this may not be necessary. However, for high energy dogs who are a little over the top, this can go a long way.
Yea, I don’t have time to hand feed my dog all of his meals, how would you even fit that into your day??
Well, in the morning take your dog for his morning walk. Take some of his breakfast with you and practice a few known behaviors while on the walk. Give him a reward for each one he does correctly. Since these are known behaviors you don’t need to bring your reward marker along. You just need to reinforce your dog listening to you when out and about. The more often you do this the more your dog will listen to you.
Before you put your dog in his kennel for the day, give him his frozen kong. This will give him something to do while you are at work. If you go home mid-day to let him out, do a short 5 treat session working on a new behavior. If you feed him lunch give him another frozen kong to deal with. It is best to have 2 Kongs that you can rotate and don’t give him full meals in each one. Break them up.
Use the last of his daily rations for evening training. If you are training in a distracting area throw in some higher value treats like pieces of hot dog, chicken or cheese. In the evenings is when I would work on a new behavior. Use your reward marker to teach your dog something new.
Use the “Say Please” method. Ask your dog to do something before he gets something. Our dogs like to work. They enjoy having a job. By not making them work for what they want is a bit of a disservice to your dog. So, find ways for them to work for going outside, getting into the car, entering a building, play with a toy, play with another dog, etc. Anything your dog could possibly want, make him do something for it. When you do this you do not have to use food rewards. Whatever he wants at that moment is reward enough.
Is this what the rest of my life with my new puppy is going to be like???
No. This is just what training is like when you have a high energy dog. If you aren’t meeting all of your dogs mental and physical needs you could run into some issues. Puppies have way more energy than adult dogs do. So, this is just life for now. Once your dog develops self-control and has a clear understanding of how to behave you can take a step back. Gauge how your dog is doing as you go and decide when you will take that step back. The time for that is different for every dog. So, never compare to anyone else.
If you are finding that you can’t possibly burn all of your dogs’ energy on your own you can utilize a doggy daycare, dog walker, etc to help you.
Puppy socialization is very important for young puppies. The most important time to socialize a puppy is between 6-12 weeks. Breeders are the first to start the socialization process. Owners are responsible for continuing that socialization. If your dog is timid then it is up to you, the owner, to provide your puppy with lots of extra safe and controlled socialization.
Did you enjoy this article about puppy socialization? Have a question?
Leave a comment below and we will answer your questions for you.
Want to read more about Puppy Socialization? Check out Ian Dunbars article here.