Puppy Socialization – Help Your Puppy Live A Happy Life
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Puppy Socialization – Help Your Puppy Live A Happy Life

What is puppy socialization?

Until a few years ago there was an ethology term which was very fashionable: imprinting. Imprinting means to form an impression in the young members of any given species. The puppy learns to recognize the characteristics and behavior of his others dogs, and starts to relate to them. In the phase of imprinting, the puppy can transfer this ability to other species, in our case, to mankind. In geese the imprinting phase lasts a few hours (the phase starts immediately after hatching, and closes a few hours later). I mention geese, because the term imprinting was first used by Konrad Lorenz while he was the studying geese. Puppies are born deaf, blind and immature, and their ability to form a bond with their mother and other puppies is lasts up to 12 weeks of life. This phase is called “sensitive phase”. Until a few years ago there was much of talk about imprinting, and the importance of the first three months of life of the puppies.

Puppy socialization: not the same thing

The term imprinting has fallen in favor of the more modern and perhaps more correct term socialization. If imprinting is the imprint the puppy receives during early life experiences with other peers, or individuals of other species, puppy socialization is a longer and more complex process. The puppy who has learnt to relate to his mother and brothers, and also with human beings, has not jet finished the whole learning process. The puppy’s task in the months and years to come, is what I refer to as “social skills”. For puppies being in contact with dogs and humans in the first weeks of life is essential, but not enough. Puppy socialization stimulates the five senses of your young dog. It is the introduction, exposure and desensitization to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch of everyday life. Furthermore, because dogs are able to interact properly, they must have the opportunity to learn to relate to different individuals in different situations. Social skills means that puppies and mature dogs know how to interact with other members of their own species and men without any conflict and stress. It is during puppy socialization that you start to create the bond with your dog,one that will last for a lifetime.

There are two main types of puppy socialization:

Active – Things we purposely introduce to our dogs like obedience training, visiting new homes and meeting people.

Passive – What your puppy comes across in her own time like exploring the park close to home.

How to recognize when a dog has social skills?

The best way to figure out what social skills are is to observe a dog that possesses them. Social skills are not dependent on age or sex: puppies or an adult male dog may have them alike. The first thing you may notice is that the dog is at ease in the presence of other dogs. He looks at them, approaches them without fear, it has a safe and relaxed behavior. Another feature that is recognizable in dogs with social skills is the ability to stop. Stopping is a key strategy that dogs must put into action in order to avoid conflicts. The third skill is the ability to choose the correct behavior which is appropriate to any given situation. A dog that exaggerates by expressing too much fear or aggression, or exaggerates playing or being too submissive, can not have good social skills. The more a dog has social skills, the more skillful in avoiding conflicts. An important tool is the ability to “read” social cues of the other dogs.

Things that will not let your puppy socialize

Puppy socialization1. It is not enough to simply take the puppy for a walk in the park and have it come across a lot of dogs. In this situation, puppies can learn to survive, and they may develop anxiety that will lead to reactions of fear or aggression in the following months.

2. Growing up with another dog is not sufficient. It is like thinking that to make a kid socialize instead of sending him to school you just let him play with his brother. Socialization occurs only with varied and guided experiences.

3. You cannot just let the puppy play with other puppies or with other extremely tolerant dogs. There are puppies that because of these experiences can develop problematic relationship with other dogs (which will only become evident in the following months).

How to make a puppy socialize

The first step to make a puppy socialize is to observe the puppy’s unique personality. During the first staged of their early life, they discover many aspects of being a dog including how to inhibit their bite and also the language of dominance and submission. At two months of age a well trained person may already tell what character the puppy will develop as an adult dog and also understand how certain aspects of it’s character may be driven to prevent future problems. A good breeder will also begin to get your puppy accustomed to proper household etiquette, noises and basic training. To understand better your puppy’s character, the best thing you can do is observe carefully in different situations: when it is with you, with other dogs, basically whenever you can. The more you observe, the more things you will learn about it. As you are watching it interact with other dogs, ask yourself: what is my puppy learning? Maybe you thought it was “only” playing, but if you watch it more carefully, you will realize that every experience, in the first months of life (and perhaps a lifetime), teach it something which could turn out to be good or something potentially negative. The next step is to select the correct experience for it to live, taking care to choose with whom your puppy must meet. This is what happens in my communication classes: dogs that I know well are made to meet with puppies (and adult dogs), and I observe how the different situations help the puppy (and adult dog), to learn how to relate better with each other. Socializing your puppy has an even bigger influence over her behavior than the breed of dog (boxer, beagle etc.) she is – it’s that important.

Guidelines for a good puppy socialization

- Puppy house training, crate training and chew toy training should begin as soon as your puppy arrives home. This is all part of the puppy socialization process, it establishes proper household etiquette, reinforces desirable behavior and prevents bad habits from forming.

- Hold your puppy, caress her, pet her nicely and ask family members and friends to do the same

- Bring your dog with you as much as possible but only if it is safe for her. Try and involve your puppy in all your activities and never let her feel left out. Let your puppy become part of your life and let her enjoy and feel comfortable with everything in your house be it the vacuum cleaner or the sound from your TV set

- Try and get your puppy to come across as many people as possible especially during the first weeks. Try doing this at your house for this is the environment where she will feel more safe and thus willing to play with new friends

Why is it important to have puppy socialization?

Some of the reasons have been explained already, but basically you want your puppy to socialize for the following reasons:

- it will help the puppy live a happy life and not have many physical and emotional health problems due to the lack of socialization that in some cases are responsible for euthanasia.

- so that your dog will not live as an outcast in your own backyard because it does not possess the necessary social skills required to live in peace and harmony with other dogs and human beings

- in order to prevent behavioral problems such as shyness, aggression, timidity, fear towards people, dogs and other animals

- it is also important for your puppy to socialize because by doing so you will avoid having to deal with many problems such as barking, object guarding, chewing, separation anxiety, dog to dog aggression etc that could arise from a lack of puppy socialization.

Can adult dogs socialize?

This will be the topic of a future article, but for know I will share some insight. The answer to the question is: it depends. An adult dog who has problems in relating with other dogs can be rehabilitated, but in these situations I usually tend evaluated each case. You must not forget that as a dog trainer on the one hand, I have a problem to solve, but on the other hand there are the dogs to be protected from negative or even traumatic experiences. The odds are better if the dog is young, and of medium or small size. Do not forget that it is always better to prevent problems by using proper socialization techniques, rather than using socialization to solve them.

As a final note I will share with you some few tips:

DO NOT experiment on your own! When in doubt, always protect your puppy and ask for adequate help from a professional dog trainer.

Should you be in need of a good training guide I would suggest you take a look at Secrets of a Professional Dog Trainer

DO NOT underestimate small signs of possible problems.

Observe your dog.


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