Raising puppies is an exhilarating adventure full of happy, playful, boisterous and sometimes downright gross moments, and each and every one of those moments is profound to developing your puppy’s confidence and behaviours.
Raising confident, well-rounded puppies takes a lot of socialization that should start with mom from birth; followed by their interactions with their littermates, and finally humans and their surroundings to round it out around six weeks of age. The critical bonding-socialization period for puppies is six to eight weeks, at this point, your puppy is learning to trust and gain comfort from animals and people alike.
Puppies need to learn that the world is safe. It is so important that we introduce our puppies to everything we can, as often as we can, in a friendly, calm way. To avoid fearful adults, who are sometimes mistaken as bad or unfriendly dogs, we must socialize correctly for every situation in life; before four months of age your puppy should have met people of different ages, race, height and size, people in hats, dresses, shorts, slacks, men with beards, people in sunglasses or in wheelchairs, people with canes or umbrellas, babies, toddlers, kids etc. For puppies, everything is new – a person is not a person, because we do not all look or smell the same. Every person is an individual and dogs know that what they don’t know is if they are safe around all people until they have met enough humans.
We also need to be sure that we are properly introducing our pups to their social environment, everything they may encounter they should be introduced to them many times before four months of age. For example, before giving your puppy their first bath, they should have spent supervised time in the bathroom nosing around, a couple of tries in a dry tub, and then some time with an inch of water in the tub, then sometimes beside you (outside of the tub) as you add water to the tub. This is an example of properly socializing your pup to the bath time. We have socialized him into the environment and smells of the bathroom, followed by the new texture of the porcelain surface of the tub, followed by the sensation of standing on a porcelain surface with water on their toes. Finally, that quite loud and possibly scary noise of adding water to the tub, all of this should be done several times before actually attempting to bathe your pup.
First time at the dog park, or on the farm for Legion (after vaccinations, safety first) – walk on a leash and avoid the area where the dogs are and leave after a few minutes. This is a good first experience, it is relaxing without the excitement of the other dogs and we have avoided the risk of a fearful interaction. While your pup can smell the environment, feel the walk-path and hear the people and dogs playing. Your next visit will still be on-leash (and every other until we have recall training completed) but this time we will walk a little longer and a little closer and so on until they are fully comfortable in that area.
The above examples are how you should approach every new experience and environment for your puppy. Before flooding your puppy with new things, consider: have they seen this, tasted this, felt this, smelled this before? If the answer is no, or I don’t know, stop. Consider where to start.
The end result of your diligence in socializing your puppy is a happy, confident, not fearful adult dog. Happy Learning for both!
Written by Melody Pentland, Site Coordinator