Amazing things can happen when we preplan certain aspects of our lives. If we invest a small percentage of our income now, our money can grow for retirement. If we exercise now, we hope to prevent many health problems as we age. The same kind of preplanning can improve significantly your dog’s mental health as he grows from puppyhood to adulthood. As a puppy and an adolescent, the things he gets exposed to, either good or bad, can affect how he sees the world for his entire life. Even events that a puppy doesn’t experience can be traumatic in adulthood. This is why socialization is so important. Some dog experts say our dogs are not fully domesticated until they have been properly trained and socialized. As a trainer, I would like to see everybody training and socializing at the same time but if I had to choose which one would be more important, it would be to get your dog out in the world as much as possible. Socialization has a pressing deadline that, if you miss it within the first 8 to 16 weeks of Zippy’s life, you will never be able to fully “domesticate” your dog. This is when we see dogs scared of sounds, some people, skateboards etc.
Dogs, like people, come with their own personalities and this requires that all of them need some sort of behavior modification right from the start. Some dogs lack confidence and some are pushy. Others are sluggish, shy, reserved, rambunctious, asocial, antisocial or lack confidence. This is why that crucial 8 weeks is so important. We can take those inborn “character flaws” and work with them, mold and manage them over that period so that adolescence and adulthood is much more bearable.
What is Socialization? It is simply getting the dog familiar with all sorts of people, situations and other animals so that Zippy will less likely be fearful when he becomes an adult. If dogs aren’t exposed to men, children, people with canes, hats or beards, then the dog could react in a visceral mannerwhen he sees these people for the first time as an adult. Fear is the main reason why dogs bite. But luckily, socialization is a fun and easy thing to do with a puppy.
Your job as a puppy owner is to get Zippy to not only tolerate but absolutely enjoy everybody whether they are in a wheel chair or walking with a limp.
How do we do it:
· Your goal is for your puppy to meet 100 unique strangers in 8 weeks. So keep count.
· I always ask my clients to gather up some tiny treats that are about ½ pea sized and are something the puppy absolutely goes bonkers over. When I did this with my last puppy, I used little pieces of cheddar cheese or hot dogs.
· Go to the nearest plaza that has a steady flow of people and is not close to a pet supply store or vet. In Dr. Phillips, the Publix on Sand Lake Road is a perfect place or across the street where My Gym is located.
· Sit on a bench and wait. You’ll soon realize that puppies are absolutely irresistible. People can’t help but want to pet a puppy.
· When the first few people show up, feed your puppy treats ever so often and let the strangers feed Zippy, as well. By doing this, your puppy is associating all these strangers with something really great. Cheese!
· Let children gush over the puppy. Encourage people of all races and genders to pet your little fur ball. One of the toughest demographic to get interested in a puppy is men. Most don’t want to be bothered and when they are with their wives, they hang back and wait. Get them to pet or feed little Zippy, too. Insecure adult dogs can sense the extra testosterone and low voice that a man has and find it threatening
When my wife and I did this, we went to the Loop in Kissimmee and Home Depot and over the course of about 3 weeks, we had our 100 unique strangers.
A Few Words of Warning: Before you embark on your daily socialization trip, there are a few things to keep in mind. Puppies are at a risk for getting a deadly disease called Parvo. It is a dangerous and deadly virus that hangs out in dog feces and can live on surfaces and grass for weeks. Because of this, you should keep your puppy away from vet parking lots or pet stores until they have had all their shots. Also keep them away from other dogs because adult dogs can carry it on their paws or body but be immune to Parvo themselves. The risk is low but why take chances.
Also, watch your puppy’s body language. If at any time Zippy looks scared, get him out of there quickly. This would be the opposite of positive socialization and create a phobia.
A Side Note: You should never physically discipline or punish your puppy. This time in Zippy’s life is so impressionable that this antiquated style of training can be horribly traumatic and can make Zippy fear you. In modern dog training, we guide our dogs with kind and calm benevolence. Reward your puppy for the things he does right often and ignore those undesirable behaviors. With consistency, your puppy will get the picture. If you are ever uncertain about how to extinguish unwanted behaviors, always solicit the help from a certified trainer.
But wait, you’re not done! So you have gotten those 100 people to gush over your puppy but at approximately 6 months to about 2 years, your dog has grown into adolescence and most dogs develop another fear imprint period. So it is important to continue getting your dog out meeting people and since by now, your dog has all its vaccinations, you can get them meeting other dogs and going to dog parks and pet stores.
It sounds easy because it is. But believe it or not, so many people completely miss or don’t even know about socialization and unfortunately do their dog a great disservice. Your dog when well-socialized will ensure that he is healthy, happy and free of fear.