Congratulations! Many months ago you determined that you had the time and budget for a dog, researched appropriate breeds, found a reputable breeder, purchased all the right equipment (crate, baby gates, x-pen, potty pads, chew toys, kongs, collar, leash, etc.) and your puppy is on the way. Don't stop working now though; the hardest work is about to begin, and you only have three to four weeks to accomplish it.
What Needs To Get Done in Three to Four Weeks?
Time is of the essence now! Assuming your puppy arrives to you at the age of 9 weeks - you have approximately three to four weeks to thoroughly socialize your puppy. The process of socialization is the gradual exposure of a wide variety of experiences prior to a puppy turning 14 weeks old. Broadly speaking, puppies should experience the following types of things during this socialization period:
- Meet dozens of people, ranging from infant to elderly and infirm, across all ethnic groups, and mannerisms (shy and timid people to loud and boisterous)
- Experience many sights, sounds, and smells, such as riding in a car, public transit, visiting friends' houses, walking on many surfaces, and seeing and hearing movement and noise (loud buses, skateboards, bicycles, etc.)
- Play with many other puppies (of different breeds) and friendly adult dogs
- Be handled all over by as many people as possible (ears, eyes, mouth, paws, nails, tail, hugged, lifted, restrained)
What's The Rush?
Wait too long to socialize your puppy and you may find your dog respond fearfully or even aggressively towards other dogs, different types of people, or different experiences. Dog-to-dog aggression is extremely common in adult dogs, and a high percentage of those cases involve improper socialization as a puppy. In fact, most behavioral issues in adult dogs can be traced back to incomplete or improper socialization as a puppy.
Quickly! Enroll in a Puppy Socialization Class
A Puppy Socialization Class is a program specifically designed to allow puppies to meet and interact with each other during the socialization period of roughly 8-14 weeks of age. At this age, puppies have not had complete vaccinations, so a puppy socialization class must be held in an environment that is throughly sanitized prior to puppies coming in.
Why Can't I Just Socialize My Puppy At The Dog Park?
There are at least three reasons why Puppy Socialization classes are a must, and bringing your 2 month old puppy to the dog park is a big mistake. First, your puppy could catch one of a dozen illnesses from the other dogs in the park. Second, many dogs at the park are not dog-friendly or in some cases may hate puppies. A puppy that gets mauled at the park during this socialization window is very likely to become dog aggressive later in life. Third, puppies play in a way that is very different than adult dogs. That rough housing, mouthing, and biting only happens amongst puppies and is crucial to the development of their bite inhibition and overall social skills with other dogs.
Just recently, a 6 week old puppy was killed at a dog park in South Carolina. Young dogs are often the target for harassment or bullying by other dogs a the park. For so many reasons, do not take your puppy to the dog park until after their final round of puppy vaccinations and are a bit older!
Things To Look For In A Good Puppy Socialization Class
- Puppies should be 2-4 months old and no older, with the possible exception for toy breeds who are 5 months old.
- The space should be sanitized as adult dogs from previous classes may shed bacteria or parasites on the floor or in the water bowls.
- The emphasis on the class should be on controlled play time with other puppies. Puppies should not be allowed to practice bad behavior (bullying, rough play, humping)
- Where possible, other socialization elements should be incorporated (i.e. having each puppy meet every adult or child attending class, bringing out snow shovels in the summer, or skateboards and umbrellas in the winter)
- Training should be positive reinforcement-based (i.e. clicker training). Absolutely no physical corrections should be used at this young age (although it is my belief that physical corrections have no place in dog training regardless of the dog's age).
Here's a great example of what a Puppy Socialization Class looks like:
Things To Avoid (Red Flags):
- Dog training schools that allow dogs of any age in one class. Adult dogs do not need more socialization in school (they need to learn to ignore other dogs!). Puppies require it to grow up well socialized. It is unlikely a mixed class like this will allow for the off-leash play time required for socialization.
- Classes held out doors, in parks, etc. - Puppies that have not had all their vaccinations should not be in public places where there is a high probability of animal feces around.
- Correction training for puppies - a puppy that has barely started or finished growing must not be subjected to leash corrections. Old fashioned correction trainers know that dog should be 6 months or older prior to being given a leash correction, yet unfortunately there are many trainers who have no problem using a choke, pinch, or shock collar on a 3 month old puppy.
- Only doing private lessons. Your puppy needs to get out and experience the world.
Get Moving! The Clock is Ticking!
Your dog will probably live 10, 15, maybe 20 years if you are that lucky! The next four weeks will make a huge difference in the quality of life you and your dog enjoy for the next decade or two. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Socialized dogs grow up confident, secure, and friendly. Unsocialized dogs often have fear or aggression issues that can be difficult to modify later in life. Print out this document ("Puppy's Rule of 12") and get to work. Make it count!
Andre Yeu, head trainer and owner of When Hounds Fly! is proud to be Toronto's first Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP). When Hounds Fly! (www.whenhoundsfly.com) is conveniently located in Downtown Toronto West, and offers puppy socialization, basic obedience, rally obedience, tricks classes, and private lessons to dog owners in our community.