Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, but each new puppy must learn about humans. Socialization is the process during which puppies develop positive relationships with other living beings.
The most sensitive period for successful socialization is during the first three to four months of life. The experiences that your pet has during this time will have a major influence on its developing personality and how well it gets along with people and other animals when it grows into adulthood. It is very important for puppies to have frequent, positive social experiences during these early months in order to prevent asocial behavior such as fear and biting.
Puppies that are inadequately socialized may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity or aggression. This is not to say that socialization is complete by four months of age - only that it should begin before that time. Continued positive exposure to a variety of people and other animals as your pet grows and develops is an essential part of maintaining good social skills. It is also extremely important that your new puppy be exposed to new environments and stimuli at this time (such as sounds, odors and locations) to reduce the "fear of the unfamiliar" that might otherwise develop as your pet grows older.
Puppy Socialization Classes
Attending puppy classes during this primary socialization period is an excellent way to ensure multiple contacts with a variety of people and other dogs. This involves enrolling puppies early, before they pick up bad habits, and at an age when they learn very quickly.
Puppy training and socialization classes are available in many communities where puppies can be admitted as early as three months of age. These classes help puppies get off to a good start with training, and offer an excellent opportunity for important social experiences with other puppies and with a wide variety of people. Since there can be some health risks when exposing young puppies to other dogs and new environments, the best age to begin puppy classes should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Socialize with Treats
It is important for every puppy to meet as many new people as possible in a wide variety of situations. It may be beneficial to ask each person who meets your puppy to give it a treat. This will teach your puppy to look forward to meeting people and discourage hand-shyness. Your puppy will learn to associate new friends and an outstretched hand with something positive.
Once your puppy has learned to sit on command, have each new friend ask it to sit before giving a treat. This teaches a proper greeting and will make your puppy less likely to jump up on people. You should make certain that your pet has the opportunity to meet and receive treats from a wide variety of people of all ages, appearances, and both sexes during its early formative months.
Make an effort to see that your young pup has plenty of opportunities to learn about children. Kids can seem like a completely different species to dogs since they walk, act, and talk very differently than adults. Puppies that grow up without meeting children when they are young may never feel comfortable around them when they become adults.
Keep It Positive
And last, but not least, be careful to avoid physical punishment and any interactions with people that might make your puppy anxious. Harshly punishing a young pet will damage its bond with you and weaken its trust in people. Techniques such as swatting a pup, shaking it by the scruff, roughly forcing it onto its back, flicking it on the nose, and rubbing its face in a mess should never be used. Pets that are raised by these methods may grow up to fear the human hand, and are likely candidates to bite out of fear. In general, avoid any interactions with people who might make your puppy anxious during the early months of its life.
If you have questions about socializing your puppy, feel free to call us at (978) 453-1784 to speak to one of our veterinarians.