Yes! It's a thing!
With the holidays behind us, I thought this would be a brilliant time to address new puppies coming into a home and how to properly socialize them. This pandemic has impacted not only us humans, but also dogs and new puppies being brought into a family. professional dog trainer, I have seen more than my fair share of unsocialized or poorly socialized pups.
A puppy’s primary imprint development starts at around 6-8 weeks of age and lasts until about 12-18 weeks of age.
During that time, what happens in the puppy’s life holds throughout their life.
Good experiences are remembered, and bad experiences are too. I had a young female pup many years ago that was dropped by a friend’s child accidentally. She never trusted children after that. I was able to work through that issue with a lot of time, patience, and training set-ups, but it took a very long time and I would never trust her to make the right choice left unattended with a small child.
Puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. They should receive at least one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming. They should be kept up to date on their vaccines throughout the class.
With the world as it is these days, a puppy class isn’t always an option AND there are too many puppy classes out there that basically put all the pups together and let them figure it out. This, in my opinion, is like throwing them into the deep end of the pool and expecting them to find shore or learn how to swim in the moment! A private session or one with just two or three pups and barriers between so that the pups can choose who they feel safe to engage with, is far more likely to build confidence and joy for a puppy. It will develop their social skills exponentially when they are given a choice.
Imagine this: Your child goes to school and recess comes. All are sent outside by themselves and have to navigate their way around bullies, meaner, older, or more assertive children, and they are struggling to cope with this because they haven’t developed the social skill set yet. Fortunately, for our children, we have adults there to supervise and be supportive to those that are shier or less confident. A puppy’s development is much the same.
Veterinarians that specialize in behavior recommend that owners take advantage of every SAFE opportunity to expose young puppies to a great variety of stimuli that they will experience in their lives. Now, this doesn’t mean take them to a dog park…. that would be the deep end of the pool, right? But you could take them to a park where there a few people and some dogs off in the far distance and work on recall games and toy play. As your pup becomes more confident, maybe you can move in a bit closer and then away again, navigating your way back and forth until you see from your puppy’s body language, they feel safe and are interested in engaging with safe people and dogs. Speaking of dog body language, I highly recommend Lili Chin’s book, Doggie Language. It speaks volumes with her simple drawings of our dog’s emotions!!
We want to expose pups to as many new people, animals, stimuli, and environments, as can be achieved safely without causing overstimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal, or avoidance. If your pup is showing any of those signs, give them more space, reinforce with treats or toy play to help settle and rebuild. By giving them a choice to engage and do what feels safe to them, we can avoid a lot of behavioral issues later in life. Aggression being one of them. It usually stems from fears as a small pup. Something bad happened when they were exposed to perhaps an overzealous older pup or well-meaning human who was too assertive with their greeting.
Keep in mind, puppies tire quickly and time needs to be set aside for them to play quietly or nap in safe places, such as their crates or puppy pens. This teaches the pup to amuse themselves and may help to prevent problems of over attachment to the owners, like we see now with the pandemic, called separation anxiety. Continuing to offer dogs a wide variety of experiences during the first year of their life is extremely helpful in avoiding this syndrome.
Please leave me a comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you’re doing to properly socialize your pup.