Socializing Dogs

To raise a happy, well-adjusted dog you need to learn the art of socializing dogs correctly from puppyhood. You often read advice that in order to be more confident, friendly and calm as adults, new puppies should be socialized. This means more than just the occasional trip to the pet store and playing with the kids. Many dogs that are isolated in puppyhood remain fearful and suspicious their entire lives. The developmental period between one and five months is extremely important for puppies. Providing them with a rich, stimulating, varied environment virtually ensures a confident, cheerful dog.

Be careful not to expose your dog to viruses, unknown dogs or feces from unknown dogs until the dog has had its puppy shots. This is usually by 12 weeks of age. Check with your vet.

The Right Beginning
It is illegal in some states to sell puppies younger than eight weeks of age. There are several reasons puppies need to stay with their mother and littermates. Primarily, puppies begin to learn bite inhibition and limits. If they bite too hard in play or try stealing food or toys from mother or siblings, they are disciplined in dog language they understand very well. Also, the younger you get your puppy, the harder housebreaking may be.

Ideally, your new puppy should have been raised with lots of human interaction and gentle handling. Building puppy confidence starts early. Beware of anyone selling puppies younger than eight weeks old.

Socializing Your Puppy with Other Animals
Although you may be tempted to show off your little cutie at the pet store, please don't. Check with your vet; a puppy's immune system is not strong until about 12 weeks of age. For the same reason, don't take your puppy to parks or any place frequented by many strange dogs until after puppy vaccinations. (You also don't want your puppy to have any traumatic experiences with overly aggressive dogs.) While most adult dogs are fine with puppies, not all are. Remember that you are imprinting your puppy for life with these experiences. You want them to be positive, not scary.

Do you have friends with healthy, well-cared-for, friendly pets? Take your puppy to their homes for visits. Let it be around dog-savvy cats and friendly older dogs.

Socializing Your Puppy with Adults and Children
You want your puppy to grow up thinking all people are friendly. Don't worry that it will be any less of a watch dog as it grows up. A well-adjusted dog knows the difference between friend and foe. A dog that is suspicious and fearful is a liability.

Invite people to your home to visit the puppy. Make sure all interactions are pleasant and fun. Don't allow anyone to roughhouse, tease or play chase games, especially children. Ask your visitors to gently enforce any obedience rules you have established, like not jumping up, biting or grabbing at food.

Letting friends run a brush through your puppy's coat and handle its feet gently is also a good idea. It will get the puppy used to being groomed and going to the vet. Don't force anything at this point. Make it pleasant and use treats.

Remember that puppies need a lot of sleep and quiet time. Just like children, puppies can get cranky and hyperactive if overstimulated. They also need to learn to lie down and relax around visitors, so respect the puppy's naptime.

Building Physical Confidence
If you have any place you can take the puppy exploring that hasn't been marked by tons of strange dogs, do so. Let the puppy explore smells, different types of footing, climbing over logs and being in and around water.

Assuming you are driving, your puppy is getting used to being in cars without getting anxious or sick. Many dogs develop stress and carsickness because the only time they go anywhere by car is to the vet. This is easily avoided if the puppy associates car trips with fun activities.

Socializing After 12 Weeks Old
At three months of age, your puppy has had his vaccinations and can be enrolled in puppy kindergarten class. This is an excellent way to get him used to being around other young dogs, and you'll both learn some obedience.

Your puppy is also ready for short on-leash walks. Walk around the block. Take your puppy to town and let him be an explorer for 20 to 30 minutes. Now you can take your puppy to the pet store and anywhere else dogs are allowed. Walk your puppy through the park, perhaps by a playground, and let kids meet it. Everyone loves puppies.

A Note on Fear Periods
Some puppies will go through fear periods, where their confidence takes a temporary tumble. If you notice your usually courageous puppy being uncharacteristically hesitant, don't worry. More importantly, don't coddle the puppy or scoop it up and console it.

Don't force a puppy into anything scary; be reassuring. For example, a scary bicycle lying on the sidewalk startles your usually fearless puppy. It tries to pull away because it is afraid. You don't know why and the puppy probably doesn't either.

Go over to the bicycle and touch it. Talk to it, even. If you have a treat handy, drop it near the scary bicycle and encourage your puppy to go get his treat. When it does, praise and carry on. Do not make a huge deal of this.

These tips will help you give your puppy important tools that it will carry for the rest of its life. You'll have a confident, happier and easier-to-train dog.

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