Socializing simply means exposing a puppy, or dog, to any number of environmental stimulus. These stimulus can (and should) include as many humans as possible (all shapes, sizes, colors and ages), other dogs (again in all shapes, sizes, colors and ages), environmental sounds, smells and sights; garbage trucks, traffic cones, kids on bikes, mailboxes, garbage cans, police sirens, school buses, screaming babies etc., as well as other types of animals (especially important for the higher prey drive dogs), rides in the car, walks in a park, visiting a pet store, visiting the groomer, visiting the vet…and on and on! Sounds easy enough in the busy lives of today right? Well, the catch is, this all has to happen in a very positive, happy and non threatening way, oh and the absolute best time to do this is between 6-12 weeks old! 6 WEEKS you say? Yep, but don't fret all is not lost if you have obtained your puppy after 12 weeks and/or are unsure of it's previous socialization exposure. You can still do all the same socializing exercises, you may just need to move at a slower pace depending on how confident or unsure your puppy is.
THIS is where getting in touch with a good trainer comes in handy as well as getting your new puppy enrolled in a puppy class. It's never too early OR too late to start! They will be gently, and in a positive way, exposed to other people, other dogs and learn great new things that will help an unsure pup become more confident and help your confident pup refine it's manners! The benefits of good socialization are too numerous to count, it's common sense really, if a pup is never exposed to something in his early days he will be more fearful of it when exposed to it later on. Also if a pup is exposed to something and it is a scary or traumatic experience, the next time the pup gets exposed to that something he will have a fearful reaction and possibly even an aggressive one in an attempt to remove himself or the offending "something". This is where bites can occur, if not caught and remedied quickly these reactions can escalate and a full blown fear reaction becomes ingrained and is hard to extinguish. The leading cause of relinquishment of dogs to shelters is due to behavior problems. I am confident enough to say that likely 90% of those problems could have been alleviated or even never begun had there been positive, early socialization and training!
So if you got a puppy over the holidays, or even an older dog from a shelter research the trainers in your area, find one that believes in positive reinforcement training (not dominance/correction based) and get your pup in as soon as possible! If you can't get into class just yet at the VERY LEAST start taking your dog places and let them meet people!! Take a bag of 100 tiny dog biscuits with you on your trips and let any number of strangers feed your puppy! You would be amazed at how quickly your pup will begin to understand that meeting new people is quite fun and rewarding! You can do the same thing when you see dogs on walks, feed your dog good stuff when they see another dog or cat or even squirrel across the street! Make the world wonderful and fun and you and your pup will be on a good solid footing to a wonderful life together!
For more technical information of the importance of socialization The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has written a series of articles on this subject! Read HERE and HERE!
***By the way these are my favorite trainers (I am totally biased I know, but hey, they really are awesome at what they do!) Lesli Hyland in Rutland, Vermont and
Misti Fry/Carrie Galvan in Springfield, Missouri***
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