<Updated on 10APR16>
Actively and wisely socializing a puppy between 8 and 16 weeks of age is as critical to a puppy’s behavioral health as vaccinations are to their physical health. Click here to listen to an eight minute podcast where Dr. David Cloutier and Don Hanson discuss this critical issue.
I cannot stress enough the importance of socialization at this juncture in your puppy’s life. Dogs have a critical socialization period, which typically occurs between 8 and 16 weeks of age, allowing room for some individual variability. It is during this time that they will be most open to new and different experiences. What they are not exposed to during this time frame, they will be more likely to fear later in life. This does not mean that just because they were exposed to something they will never fear it, but it certainly decreases the chances of this occurring.
A Puppy Headstart class alone is not adequate socialization for your puppy but is a great place to start. Having a credentialed instructor there to ensure sanitation and hygiene, to supervise puppy interactions and to answer student’s questions is invaluable.
All puppies need to be safely exposed to as many different places, people, environments and situations as possible without over stimulating them. This is even more critical for the puppy that is unsure of himself, shy or fearful. It is even more important if you hope to have your puppy work as a certified therapy dog or as any type of service/assistance dog.
Many puppy owners are concerned about bringing their puppy out into public, as they have not completed their vaccination series. Since socialization is so essential to the behavioral well being of a dog and since much of this period occurs before a puppy is fully vaccinated, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends “…it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.”1
In a letter to the veterinary community at-large, Dr. R.K Anderson, a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists states; “Experience and epidemiologic data support the relative safety and lack of transmission of disease in these puppy socialization classes over the past 10 years in many parts of the United States. In fact; the risk of a dog dying because of infection with distemper or parvo disease is far less than the much higher risk of a dog dying (euthanasia) because of a behavior problem.”2
The 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines published by the American Animal Hospital Association states; “There is no medical reason to delay puppy and kitten classes or social exposure until the vaccination series is completed as long as exposure to sick animals is prohibited, basic hygiene is practiced, and diets are high quality. 24,25 The risks attendant with missing social exposure far exceed any disease risk.”
Since your puppy will not be fully vaccinated when you start socializing them you do need to give some thought as to where you take them. A well-managed puppy kindergarten class or daycare, where they check vaccination records, supervise the puppies, choose appropriate playmates, and have established cleaning protocols represent safe choices. Places where the health status of animals is not regularly checked and large numbers of dogs congregate (i.e. dog parks) should be avoided.
You have a short period of time to socialize your puppy; between 8 and 16 weeks of age, but rushing and not planning this process can be counterproductive. We recommend that you don’t just depend on socialization happening but that you plan and setup specific socialization events. You need to make sure that each event will be a positive and rewarding experience for your puppy. For example, if you are introducing your puppy to children for the first time, start with older children and with just one at a time. Then proceed to two at a time, then younger children, etc. The key is to go slow because if you overwhelm the puppy with too many people or too many new things at once, you may create a fear.
The late Dr. Sophia Yin wanted to make sure that both dog people and non-dog people understand how to greet a dog and how not to greet a dog as well as to be able to recognize the signs of fear in a dog. These are things you need to understand before you start socializing your puppy. Dr. Yin developed two great handouts on this subject, which we provide in our classes or which you can download at the links below.
How to correctly greet a dog – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/canine-body-language-how-to-greet-a-dog-and-what-to-avoid-dr-sophia-yin/
The body language of fear in dogs – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2016/04/04/body-language-of-fear-in-dogs-dr-sophia-yin/
When introducing your puppy to new situations, allow him to investigate and observe at his own pace. It is imperative that you watch him and gauge how he is feeling. If your puppy shows fear, take a mental snapshot of the situation so that you can devise a plan and work on it. Do NOT force a fearful puppy to confront its fears, as this will just make a bad situation worse. Your best option in this situation is to attempt to make light of what is occurring by having a happy voice and trying to jolly your pup a bit. When your dog relaxes, give a treat and leave.
When you take your puppy on outings take treats along. Reward him for not
jumping and practice your sits. Make every place you go a positive experience and reward the puppy with a treat for each and every positive interaction. Places you can go: stores, sidewalks in front of shopping centers, parking lots, banks, post offices, the groomers and your veterinarian. While you will eventually want to expose your puppy to places like playgrounds and parades, you will need to do much work beforehand.
Expose your puppy to different types and sizes of vehicles. Make sure they become familiar with well-behaved children as well as the elderly. Exposure to other types of animals such as cats and birds is also beneficial. Walking up and down stairs and on different types of surfaces is also part of the socialization process.
Remember to address seasonal items. A puppy born in the summer will not normally be exposed to winter clothing, snow shovels, skis and other seasonal items during the critical socialization period. I know of a summer puppy that was terrified of people the first time he saw them all bundled up in winter coats. Likewise a puppy born in the winter may not have an opportunity to be exposed to swimming unless you devise a way to make that happen.
In addition to taking your puppy places, consider having a puppy party. Invite a group of friends over to meet and help train your puppy. What better way to work on NOT jumping and sitting to meet a stranger. Just make sure everyone knows the rules beforehand.
It is very useful to take your puppy to your veterinarian and groomer for some positive visits. Just stop in to say “hi” or to get weighed. Bring a treat along and have one or more of the staff treat your puppy. Next time they go to these places they will be happy to do so.
Happy Real Life Example:
Xena, a cocker spaniel puppy had her very first experience at the groomer’s when she was 9 weeks old. She had previously been to the facility two times to just meet the employees and to receive some tasty treats. At Xena’s first official grooming visit, she went in and stood on the grooming table, was combed a bit, had a bath and then she went home. One week later she returned and stood on the table again and had the clippers held up to her so that she could hear them “buzz”. After investigating the clippers they were placed on Xena’s back so that she could feel the vibration, and then she went home. The following week she returned once again and stood on the table and had her back and head clipped, as well as her feet trimmed, then she went home. The fourth week Xena was enthusiastic about coming into the groomer’s and was able to have her first complete grooming. By breaking up the process, this puppy never had the opportunity to become overwhelmed and frightened.
What did Xena learn?
- That the groomer’s is not a scary place.
- That her guardian always returns for her.
- That being handled by a virtual stranger is an okay thing.
- How to be groomed.
To this day, Xena is a model groomer, who willingly stands on the table and is easily handled. She does not become at all stressed out when she is dropped off, rather Xena loves to come and be doted on.
Not So Happy Real Life Example
Gina, a 12-week-old Australian Shepherd puppy, a bit on the shy and timid side, was badly frightened when an adult male she had never met jumped out from behind a door and startled her.
What did Gina learn?
- That people, men in particular, are very scary.
- To be wary of what may be lurking around doors.
Since that episode, Gina has never had an interaction with a new person in which she has not behaved in a fearfully aggressive manner. However, she is perfectly comfortable with all of the people that she met prior to event. Gina’s owner will no need to do some additional work so that Gina does not have a life time fear of new people.
Socialization Treasure Hunt
We provide students in our Puppy Headstart and Basic Manners classes with a Socialization Treasure Hunt Sheet. It lists several items that their puppy should experience before they are 16 weeks of age. The list is certainly not exhaustive but includes; several variations of adults , several variations of children, different types of events, different locations, animals of varying species and sizes, vehicles, common objects, and different surfaces. The list is certainly not exhaustive. As you encounter an item that is on your treasure hunt list, check it off.
- Man Wearing Baseball Hat
- Man With Glasses
- Man With Beard
- Man Carrying Child
- Man Carrying Bags
- Man Jogging
- Man With A Newspaper
- Man With An Umbrella
- Man Over Six Feet Tall
- Woman Under Five Feet Tall
- Woman Wearing Skirt
- Woman Wearing Hat & Sunglasses
- Woman In Shorts
- Woman that is Pregnant
- Person Pushing Baby In A Stroller
- Person With Baby In A Sling Or Pack
- Person Wearing Heavy Winter Coat
- Person Wearing Winter Boots
- Person Biking
- Person In A Wheelchair
- Person On Crutches
- Person Using A Walker
- Person Using A Cane
- Person Limping
- Person In A Police Uniform
- Person In A Mail Uniform
- Person In A Military Uniform
- Person In A UPS Uniform
- Pizza Delivery Person
- Child Under Age 1
- Child Between 2 – 3
- Girl Between 3-7
- Girl Over Age 7
- Boy Between 3-7
- Boy Over Age 7
- Child Running
- Child Riding A Bike
- Child Crying Or Yelling
- Child On Rollerblades Or Skateboard
- Child Jumping Rope
- Children Sledding
- 2 Children Together
- Adult Sporting Events
- Child’s Sporting Event
- Gathering Of 5 Or More People
- Gathering Of 8 Or More People
- Outdoor Restaurant
- Shopping Plaza
- Post Office
- Hardware Store
- Vet’s Office (Good Visit Only)
- Water Fountain
- Body Of Water (Ocean, Lake, Pond, Stream)
- Wooded Area
- Congested Area (Downtown Bangor,
- Bar Harbor)
- Walking Trails
- Rocky Terrain
- Park With People
- Parking Lot With Many Cars
- Office Cubicle
- Fast Food/Bank Drive Thru
- Large Dog
- Small Dog
- Black Dog
- White Dog
- Young Dog
- Old Dog
- Long Haired Dog
- Hairless Dog
- Short Haired Dog
- Two Or More Dogs Playing
- Barking Dog On Tie Out
- Barking Dog Behind Fence
- Bouncy Dog On Lead
- Three Legged Dog
- Pet Birds
- Pocket Pets (mice, hamsters, gerbils,)
- Sheep Or Goats
- Fire Engine
- Police Car
- Push Lawn Mower
- Ride On Lawn Mower
- Farm Tractor
- Loud Motorcycle
- Dump Truck
- Delivery Truck
- Tow Truck
- Oil/Propane Truck
- Garbage Truck
- Lawn Furniture
- Snow Shovel
- Coat Rack
- Stack Of Cardboard Boxes (2.5 Feet
- Or Higher)
- Drains In Sidewalks
- Covered Manholes
- Laundry Blowing In The Wind
- Trash Cans Outdoors
- Stacked Bags Of Sod, Mulch, etc.
- Foot Bridge
- Bales Of Hay
- Construction Equipment (Nail Gun,
- Saw, Drill, Etc.)
- Automatic Door
- Automatic Garage Door
- Traffic Cones
- Metal Grate
- Hardwood Floor
- Ceramic Tile
- Vinyl Tile
- Plastic Decking
- Stairs (wood, metal. concrete, stone)
- Throw Rug
- Train Tracks
Our friends at Mighty Dog Graphics recently published and shared a graphic which illustrates some of the many things you need to include in your puppy’s socialization plan. You can download it by clicking here.
If you have questions on puppy socialization and habituation we encourage you to enroll in a Puppy Headstart class at Green Acres Kennel Shop. You can learn more about that by “clicking here” or by calling us at 945-6841.
If you are not within our service area, you can find professional dog trainers offering classes at the links below. We recommend that you search for a trainer at The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) first, as all members of the PPG agree to abide by the PPG’s Pain-Free, Force-Free, Fear-Free philosophy as outlined in their Guiding Principles – http://www.petprofessionalguild.com/PPGs-Guiding-Principles
The Pet Professional Guild – <click here>
International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants – <click here>
Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers – <click here>
Association of Professional Dog Trainers – <click here>
Articles on Don’s Blog (http://www.words-woofs-meows.com)
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