When it comes to training your puppy, the most important thing that you can do is socialize him at an early age. According to John Paul Scott, co-author of “Genetics and the Social Behavior of Dogs”, it is imperative that you do this during the “Critical Period” of establishing social relationships, which takes place between 3-12 weeks. It is during this time that your dog’s experiences will permanently shape his personality and how he reacts to places, people and other dogs. It is important to know what socialization and how to keep your young puppy safe during those early weeks of life.
Socialization is the process of learning the skills needed to be happy and confident among a variety of people and other animals in a variety of environments. This will also increase the feeling of stability, which is crucial in controlling fear. In order to do this safely, direct interaction is not necessary as long as the experience is positive in proximity to new stimuli. It is not good enough to just have experiences with dogs, people and new places. They have to be positive experiences. With a young puppy that is not fully vaccinated, it is important to have protected socialization with dogs that are the same age in a puppy class (after the puppy has been given at least his first set of shots) or dogs that you know are safe and have had their shots. Once the puppy has had his 2nd round of shots at around 12 weeks, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), you can safely go to parks, stores, take walks and continue meeting dogs and people. They need lots of time visiting new places with new people and new dogs. When puppies play with other puppies they learn a variety of social skills, including bite inhibition and confidence. According to Katherine Hughes, DVM, dogs need exposure to more than just other household dogs and occasional visitors. A dog should meet more than 100 people by the time they are 3 months old. Other people should handle, play with and even hand feed your puppy to ensure that your puppy is comfortable around a variety of different people… men, women, and children, preferably of different races.
As you introduce your dog to new places, people and other dogs, be sure to be generous with positive attention and treats. This way they become conditioned to associate new experiences with something good. Play, feed and praise your pup around new things, people and experiences. Remember to be relaxed while you show off your new puppy to new people. Our dogs can pick up on our emotions. You don’t want your pup to get nervous, as that would be counterproductive. Also, start out slow with one new person or one new dog before moving on to two and then three etc. You don’t want to overwhelm your puppy with too much stimulation all at once right from the get go.
The most important thing to remember when socializing your puppy is to not procrastinate. As soon as you bring your pup home you can take him for car rides, visit friends homes and invite friends with healthy, friendly & vaccinated dogs over for a play date. Before you know it you will have a happy, confident social butterfly that never meets a stranger.