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Puppy Socialization

The word "socialize" is one of the most misunderstood words in the world of dog training. This misunderstanding contributes to a significant number of behavior problems in dogs, including fearfulness, dog-dog aggression, and aggression toward people.

The Truth about Socialization

The term socialization has a very specific meaning to those who study canine behavior and developmental stages. "Socialization period” is a specific, critical developmental period that occurs between three and sixteen weeks of age. This is the period of time when puppies are most susceptible to absorbing information about their world. Unfortunately, this is the same period of time where they are most susceptible to infectious diseases. In fact, some veterinarians caution their clients not to take their puppies anywhere until after all their vaccinations are complete. Other veterinarians understand the significant behavioral risk this poses, and recommend outings that are safe and relatively risk-free.

For information about veterinary-recommended early socialization, read Dr. R.K. Anderson's letter ,"Puppy Vaccination and Socialization Should Go Together”.

For more detailed information about critical developmental periods, read The Dog's Mind by Bruce Fogle or Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development, edited by Pat Hastings and Erin Ann Rouse. Both are available from dogwise.com.

Common Misunderstandings

Don't take your puppy anywhere before 4 months of age.

Take your puppy to as many different places as you can, just making sure you are not setting the puppy down where a lot of unknown dogs congregate.

The best time to socialize is between 4-6 months of age (after vaccinations are complete).

The best time to socialize is between 3 and 16 weeks of age. This is a huge window of opportunity not to be missed!

The best place to socialize with other dogs is a dog park.

Dog parks often teach dogs bad behaviors and can be traumatic to many dogs. They can actually learn the wrong things there. and until a pup is fully vaccinate, a dog park is a high-risk environment.

Having puppies play with another family dog is sufficient socialization with other dogs.

Puppies must be exposed to many other kinds of dogs to be adequately socialized. Only being comfortable with the other family dog is not enough. It is especially important to search out dogs who are of a different type than your dog, e.g., size, shape, color.

The best way to have puppies learn to get along with other dogs is to have them play with adolescent dogs close to their age so they learn how to play with other dogs.

It is very important to pick your pup's playmates for appropriate playing styles and also to make sure there is an older dog to "referee” and let the pup know when s/he is getting out of hand. Playing only with other out-of-control puppies teaches them to do just that, be out of control. That does not go over well with all other dogs. Pups need to learn to interpret other dogs' "cut-off signals,” telling them that they are playing too hard or not to play at all. Most young dogs are not good at this. That is why it is important to find older, benevolent dogs who will teach them.

As long as a puppy appears fine with other dogs and people at 6 months or 12 months of age, they will be fine lifelong.

Just like people, dogs go through several developmental stages before becoming an adult. The final development stage for dogs is actually between 18 and 36 months of age. What you get at 6 or 12 months is only a snapshot in time; much change can occur in behavior over the next year or two!

If a dog seems fearful of people or other dogs, all you have to do is keep taking them around people and dogs, and they will eventually outgrow their fear.

Dogs rarely grow out of fears; they actually get worse with age. If the socialization window of opportunity has been passed, an active behavior modification program will be needed to help a dog overcome his/her fears.

How to Socialize

Start as soon as your pup comes home. Invite friends and family over, one or two at a time and have them gently hold the pup and give him/her a couple of really tasty treats. Be careful to supervise young children who may scare a very young puppy.

Use DogPACT's Socialization Chart to search out a wide variety of sights, sounds, people, and animals to introduce to your pup. Make sure that each experience is a good one by taking some really yummy treats along on your outings.

Think about family and friends who might have a pup and invite them over for a puppy play party. Find a few older dogs who like young puppies, but won't let the puppy take too many liberties before reprimanding them without hurting them.

Start socializing young and keep it up!

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