A well-socialized dog is a joy to live with. He will readily accept change, new people, and interact comfortably with his own species. Socialization is a continuous process that begins at around 3 weeks within the litter, and continues throughout the life of the canine. However, puppyhood is the ideal time for any pet owner to take advantage of. The ‘socializing period’ is a crucial time in a puppy’s life, but begins to close at or around 16 weeks of age. A puppy purchaser has a golden window of opportunity to ‘shape’ the future personality of the canine during this time. All that the puppy will experience is new, and if controlled by the owner, each experience should be safe, happy and positive.
Until the puppy has been sufficiently inoculated, socializing can begin within your own home. Invite friends, and neighborhood children over to sit down on the floor and hand-feed your new puppy, this is a wonderful way to expose your dog to strangers, and the little hands of children. With your supervision, the puppy will learn through this experience that children are safe, and those little hands reaching forward to pet the puppy are gentle. Associating ‘touch’ with something the puppy already enjoys like food makes that ‘first’ contact with children and strangers a pleasant experience. Also, this is a grand time to educate young children about dogs.
Once your pup has been sufficiently inoculated, throw some puppy kibble in your pocket and begin to take him for walks down the street. Puppies are adorable, and attract a lot of attention. Anyone that passes by will enjoy petting him. Offer your neighbor a piece of puppy kibble to feed to your pup, he will soon learn to ‘enjoy’ strangers. Offer another piece of food as you approach ‘Mr. Mailbox’ and Mr. Fire Hydrant’ encourage him to investigate, and then give him a treat for doing so. These things along the street can produce an array of responses from your dog, ranging from very scary to very curious. Get him use to the ‘everyday’ sights and sounds of children playing, cars passing by, and people petting him.
Puppy classes are one of the best ways to expose your dog to other dogs within his age group. In a ‘controlled’ indoor environment, he will ‘safely’ meet other people; men, woman, and children, as well as other puppies, all under the ‘supervision’ of a qualified instructor. Plus, your not putting your puppy at risk by guessing whether or not the dogs at the local doggy park are social and friendly, or current on their vaccinations. You’d be surprised how many adult dogs attend doggy parks without proper training or socialization. This will put your new puppy at considerable risk for not only picking up diseases, but also getting hurt or bitten by an older dog. When one weighs the risk of behavioral problems caused from lack of socialization, and disease from the soil at the local doggy park, I’d rather take my risk in the form of a ‘clean, indoor’ puppy class. Most reputable instructors have not only ‘screened’ each puppy prior to registration, they also have on file the inoculation records of each puppy registered. This will help to put the puppy owner at ease simply knowing that the risks involved have been minimized.
Unfortunately, many veterinarians still advise new puppy owners NOT to attend any classes until the dog has completely finished with the necessary round of shots, putting the owner and canine at quite a disadvantage. This usually gives us two distinctive groups of puppy owners. Group A; completely isolates the dog, thereby living in a vacuum for the fist four or five months of his life. Group B; takes their puppy to the local dog park for exercise and play, but when asked why they are not in a puppy class they answer, “My vet told me he is too young and I should wait until his shots are completed.”
Socialization must be approached with a common sense attitude. If you would like to have the kind of adult dog that will be a joy to not only you, but also society, then you should begin while he is still a puppy, more specifically and far easier to accomplish before his 16th week of life. Think of all the things he will most likely come in contact with during his lifetime, and expose him to those things now in the most ‘positive’ format you can muster up. The ‘greater’ his experiences are while he is still young, the better his chances are of handling new situations, new people, and a joy to take out into the world with you. If your veterinarian suggests that you not attend any classes with your puppy until his shots are finished, ask why. Most vets today are more ‘up-to-date’ on all the new information that ‘supports’ puppy classes, positive reinforcement training, and the importance of early socialization.