Puppy Socialization

I came across an interesting post by Lisa Mullinax, a dog behavior specialist, that I wanted to share. Socialization is so important for your Lab and Lisa has a great perspective on this. As I browsed her site I found many valuable articles and book suggestions I just had to share.

Below is a few highlights from her post "Rethinking Puppy Socialization"

Socialization prepares your puppy for life in your world, which frequently presents unusual and even scary situations.

What is NOT a socialization program:

  • Breeder/rescue having a lot of dogs
  • Having a "friendly" breed
  • Having a puppy who is already friendly
  • Having other dogs at home
  • Having other people at home
  • Introducing a puppy to one dog
  • Taking a six-week puppy class

Just because your puppy is currently friendly to dogs and people now, in your home, or in one or two environments, does not mean you don't need to provide the same amount of socialization that a more reserved puppy needs.  Not if you want to ensure that your puppy remains friendly.

The more novel experiences your puppy has which result in a positive, pleasant outcome, the more prepared your puppy will be for his or her future life.

Contrary to popular belief, a puppy does not need to make contact with dogs and people for socialization to occur.   This is why you can still provide socialization without putting your puppy at risk.

DO'S AND DON'TS

DO:

  • Carry your puppy into dog-friendly stores (this doesn't just mean pet stores - you'd be surprised at how many banks and non-dog retail stores are willing to help a responsible owner with socialization).
  • Be generous with rewards.  Cheese. Hot dogs.  Small little tasty bits of meaty, cheesy goodness that accompanies all new and potentially scary experiences.  No, your puppy isn't going to get fat.
  • Watch new people from a distance - overly-exuberant puppies can learn that they don't get to greet everyone just because they want to (impulse control - important life skill), and shy puppies can learn that the appearance of strangers does not mean a scary encounter.
  • Carry your puppy into the vet for non-vaccination visits, and the groomer (if your dog will require grooming) for a quick treat without the shampoo.
  • Expose your puppy to other dogs...from your car: Sit in the parking lot of the dog park and let your puppy watch the dogs come and go.
  • Fill a kiddie pool with water bottles, boxes, and other strange objects and let your puppy explore...then repeat this in different areas of your house, in your yard, even on your front porch (if you can safely contain your puppy and prevent him/her from getting on the front lawn).
  • Buy a fun playset with tunnels and tents from your local toy store.  Fill the tunnels with toys and treats to encourage your puppy to explore. 

DON'T:

  • DON'T ever force your puppy to approach, enter, or interact with anything that they aren't willingly approaching, entering, or interacting with.  EVER.  Shy puppies sometimes need multiple approaches to work up the courage to interact.  Don't force it.  If you do, I might just show up on your porch and squirt you in the face with a water bottle.  No!  Bad puppy owner!
  • DON'T place your puppy on dirt or grass in public areas or in back yards where friends/family have lived for less than two years. That's because viruses like Parvo can live in the soil for that long.
  • DON'T take your puppy to the dog park until they are at least 5-6 months old and have already been socialized to a variety of other dogs.  Dog parks are for socialized dogs, not for socialization.  Being charged, swarmed, knocked over, humped, and generally terrorized is definitely not a positive experience.
  • DON'T let well-meaning strangers overwhelm your puppy with enthusiastic greetings, invasive handling, or their own, special form of training that they claim to have gleaned from dog ownership.
  • DON'T let your puppy meet strange dogs you encounter in public unless you are prepared to embark on a significant behavior modification program.  Relying on a complete stranger to be honest and objective about their dog's behavior is gambling with your puppy's safety.
  • DON'T let your friendly puppy get away with murder in the name of socializaation. Part of socialization is learning how to interact with the world.  For confident, friendly puppies, that also means learning good manners around strangers and strange dogs.  Allowing a friendly puppy to treat the world like his mosh pit when he is little is going to make life super fun when he's 60 lbs.

The best socialization program starts at the breeder or foster home, who introduces puppies to new sights, sounds, surfaces, and smells long before they come home with you. 

 

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

POSITION STATEMENT ON PUPPY SOCIALIZATION
From the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB).  Give a copy to your puppy's veterinarian!

The Neuroscience of Puppy Development:  Start Before You Get Him Home
This is what I'm talking about!

Socialization: Beyond the Dog Park
Dog parks are great...for some dogs. 

What to Look For In a Puppy Class (1)

What to Look For In a Puppy Class (2)