A question I am often asked is: “How can I go about getting my puppy together with a group of dogs for good socialization?”
First, I try to get people to understand that ‘socialization’ means more than “just other dogs”. They need to rethink the meaning of socialization and how it fits in with the dog’s perspective and their wishes. It means having their dog exposed to a variety of items and situations. Then, I explain that dogs would not normally plan a ‘social gathering’. Your dog just needs to behave well when seeing other dogs and not all dogs want to ‘meet’ all other dogs (Dog In Need of Space (DINOS)). Good manners start in the home. If a dog is mindful, respectful and trustworthy in the home, chances are it is socialized.
Be cautious of socializing your pup outside your home until he has been vaccinated, otherwise he may be susceptible to catching potentially fatal diseases. In most cases, puppies should have three sets of vaccines during their first year. A nursing pup receives antibodies from his mother’s milk that protect him from viruses and diseases. These antibodies begin to dissipate at around seven weeks, leaving the pup (weaned at about five weeks) vulnerable to disease. Therefore, puppies are given their first vaccination at six to eight weeks, with booster vaccines given at 10 to 12 and 14 to 16 weeks; the final booster usually includes a rabies vaccine. Check with your veterinarian about the best vaccine protocol for your puppy.
Because your puppy may seem to be fearless at this stage, introducing him to new situations is important from the moment you bring him home. Be cautious, however, as introducing a pup to too many new stimuli may be stressful for him. Be sure to praise him when he handles a new situation well. Temple Grandin said it best when she said that dogs cope better with scary experiences when they are mature, as opposed to when they are impressionable puppies.
Walk your pup on different surfaces (carpet, grass, roadways), take him for frequent outings, play games and then pet him quietly when he has settled down after a romp. Introduce him slowly to all types of appropriate interactions with people, animals, and new sights, sounds and smells.
Typically, I socialize a puppy by going to a public place, such as a park or walking trail, and have the owner hold the puppy on their lap and relax. This takes out any anxiety the owner might have and allows the dog to view the world as it goes by. I also advise people to be selective as to whom they socialize their puppy with, just as you would do with a small child. For example, you would not let a 5 year old to play with a 16 year old and so forth. Avoid situations where you can’t control the situation, where there are unknowns. I advise puppy owners to socialize with their friends who have soft natured dogs that are comparable in size to their puppy’s size. Then they just need to maintain rules around the house and wait for their dog to develop mature.
Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com.
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