Socializing your puppy to new people, animals, and situations is of utmost importance in her training. Un-socialized pups mature into dogs that are untrustworthy; they often become fear-biters, like to fight with other dogs, are difficult to train, and unpleasant to be around. These are the dogs that end up being euthanized in shelters every day in this country.
Studies by the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine agree that a puppy’s initial period of socialization begins at birth and lasts up to about 12 weeks (3 months) of age. While a dog must continue learning social skills after that period, veterinarians agree that starting socializing after 3 months is often a difficult and time-consuming process. Begin teaching your puppy early by following some simple steps.
What to do…
As you begin introducing your puppy to new people, places, and experiences, you want to ensure that she is not anxious or frightened during training sessions. If you don’t recognize that your puppy is overly anxious or fearful of these changes and make slow adjustments, you may be creating a phobia that turns your pup into an adult dog with fear-aggression issues.
For puppies that need a bit of extra coaxing to get calm, an all-natural herbal tonic may be just the remedy you need. Made with herbs that reduce restlessness, anxiety and aid in physical relaxation, you can place a few drops of the tonic in your pup’s water or on her tongue, and, in approximately 20 minutes, notice a marked change in her anxiety levels. Once she’s stress-free, you can try some of the tactics suggested below:
· Accustom your new puppy to being handled and inspected by regularly feeling all over her body, looking in her ears, opening her mouth, and playing with her toes. Begin brushing/bathing her, cleaning her ears with a simple cotton ball, and clipping her nails. You’re preparing her for later trips to the groomer and the veterinarian.
· Invite some of your friends over to your house to meet the new puppy. Include all ages, ethnic backgrounds, men and women. Make sure you’re with your puppy at all times as she’s meeting new friends so that she feels safe. Use this opportunity to educate any children around that she is just a baby and needs gentle, calm handling. If you notice your little pooch becoming stressed, allow her to take a time-out in her crate away from all the hustle and bustle.
· If your friends have healthy, vaccinated dogs, puppies and even cats, arrange a “play date” with your pup at your house. You’ll want to monitor all activity very closely so that nobody gets hurt and/or frightened. By extension, you can introduce your pooch to these pets in their own homes to help her gain confidence and be able to move out of her “safe” place. **PLEASE NOTE: Make sure your pup has all of her vaccinations – the final series typically occurs around 15 to 16 weeks of age – before you allow her to walk in public places or socialize with animals that may not be up-to-date on their shots. Until her immune system is fully activated, it will be very easy for her to pick up diseases from other un-vaccinated, unhealthy dogs.
· Once your new dog is vaccinated, take her for short trips in the car where she can get used to the motion and watch the sights from her car window. Carry her into parks, school playgrounds, shopping areas, etc.; anywhere there is plenty of activity, crowds of people, and noise.
· Present your puppy with various sounds; music, loud laughter, screaming kids, dogs barking, car horns – all are noises she will need to get accustomed to as she ages. Particularly loud noises should be introduced from a distance and gradually brought closer as she becomes more acclimated to them.
· Have her approach new, unfamiliar objects in the same fashion; keep umbrellas, big balls, bags, boxes, the vacuum cleaner at a distance and allow your pup to take her time going up to them on her own. Encourage her to explore and investigate her environment, including going up and down stairs, in and out a doggy door, and into and out of your car.
· Now would also be the time to introduce your new puppy to her collar and leash and show her how to behave while walking beside you. All-natural peanut butter treats enhanced with fresh fruits and vegetables can be used to reward your pup when she listens and moves along correctly and confidently during all phases of socialization and training.
What NOT to do…
When working to socialize and train a young puppy, it’s best to keep learning sessions to around 20 minutes each. Your pup’s attention span doesn’t last much longer than that time period and you take a chance on tiring her out if you go longer than that.
Remember to not force or rush your puppy into any new situation too quickly. Learn what triggers her anxieties and fears and work through them at her pace. Your job is to provide the opportunity for her to learn.
Never punish your pup with swats, smacks, heavy jerks on the leash, or a loud, angry voice when she does something inappropriate. Treating a puppy in that fashion only reinforces fears and can turn her anxieties into aggression as she matures.
Always use positive reinforcement when she accomplishes something new. Praise her with your voice, love and rub on her with your hands, gift her with treats or toys when she takes a new step forward. Throw her favorite ball or stuff her Kong with an all-natural peanut butter as a reward for good behavior.