Social Butterflies – Socializing beginnings

This was another piece for the local paper – I have expanded on it for the blog.  All pictures are property of Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training.

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Socializing is vital no matter what the species you own.  However, many of us are not doing enough with our pets – dogs especially!   First we need to get rid of the old school that no puppy should leave the house until 12 – 16 weeks old due to vaccines.  In 2008, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommended that socializing including good puppy training classes starting a week after the first round of vaccinations.    Would you confine a child to the house except for pediatrician appointments until he is preschool age?  Think, many of the vaccines are not completed until the child is older.  Imagine how devastating the lack of social interactions and life lessons would be!  Same holds true for puppies.  You just have to be careful.  With puppies that have not finished vaccines, I avoid pet supply stores, dog parks (well I avoid dog parks anyhow but that is a whole other blog), any dog dense area.  I choose a puppy program that emphasizes play and manners and that requires adult dogs there to be vaccinated.  But socializing begins weeks before you obtain your puppy.  You need to find out what the source of your puppy has done for early work.  Breeder or rescue, the first 8 – 10 weeks of life is important.  Sadly, many who have puppies do not do enough early socializing.  You need to ask questions and not take excuses.

4.5 weeks grated surface work (1)

Exposure to different surfaces is important.  This puppy was not forced to walk on the grated surface.  She did it on her own.  There was food and toys stuffed with food so the puppy started to associate different surfaces with good things.

Socializing begins with whoever has the puppies.  The first eight weeks sets the foundation for the new owners.  With the first litter I had here, the puppies were handled daily, exposed to different sounds, smells, surfaces and visitors.   As I write this (late spring 2014), I have a litter here that the first day they were being exposed to smells and touch.  Before 21 days, they were out of the puppy pen daily, experiencing sounds and different things.  The first 8 weeks, we will have visitors, exposures to different surfaces, interaction with cats, a variety of things to play with and loads of odd sounds – all with lots of treats and play to make the exposures positive.   It does not matter if you foster puppies for a rescue or are a breeder, it is your duty to create a solid foundation upon which the owner can build.  Socializing begins at birth.

Here is just one of the things we exposed our puppies to:

Same puppies, a little older, playing with another puppy and mom: 

Uhura 10 weeks (5)

And what is this I see?

As soon as you bring your puppy home, begin building on what the breeder or rescue should have begun.  Enroll your puppy in a good puppy socializing class before he is 12 weeks old.  Along with this, the first month in your home, puppy must have at least five positive (not fearful or forced) interactions with people at five new places each week.  During this time you will teach, in a positive way, good manners in every place.  Repeat this the second month your puppy is with you.  Include weekly fun meet and greets at your vet clinic during your outings.  I recommend avoiding dog parks and high dog dense areas where you may not know the health or behaviors of the dogs.  I prefer puppy play groups at good training facilities as they are safer than dog parks.   At dog parks you run a greater risk of encountering dogs with behavioral concerns and whose vaccination status is unknown.

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At not even four months, this puppy has already learned to relax at outdoor cafes.  This puppy was taken to a host of areas from the moment she came home.

Old school socializing concepts were to get that puppy everywhere and saturate him with stimuli.  A confident, self-assured puppy may be able to handle more than a reserved, shy pup.   Even a confident puppy can be flooded with stressing things which negatively affects socializing.  A good trainer can help you develop what I call an Individualized Socializing Plan for your pup.  All puppies and dogs need socializing but the individual critter’s emotional state must be addressed.  Bitsy may be able to handle anything out there with curiosity and enjoyment.  Bingo may be terrified of crowds and need a different program to help build confidence and trust.  Improper socializing can do damage just as failing to socialize can.  A good trainer can help you create a plan for your dog.

 TN 2014 (12)     TN 2014 (11)

Allowing your puppy to explore a host of places is vital.  Puppies should not be forced in to situations.  Puppies must be given lots of positive experiences.  This puppy was taken from the suburbs to the mountains in Tennessee for a couple nights.  She got to experience lots of interesting things. We had lots of food with us too.

TN 2014 (5)     TN 2014 (2)

If you obtain your puppy from a source that is doing the foundation work and then you build upon it in an appropriate manner, there is little reason why you cannot create the companion you desire.

Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, author, wife, mother and the manager of a multi-dog, multi-species household.

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