It is critically important to begin socializing your puppy before four months of age. If you wait beyond this point to begin training your puppy how to act outside the home and with other people, he may become fearful. Why?
Because he hasn’t been exposed to the outdoors, children, other animals etc. during a time in his life when puppies are most open to accepting new things. This lack of socialization can cause unwanted behavior in your dog such as barking and snapping.
Puppies only know what they are exposed to. If they are kept indoors the entire time they are young, they won’t know how to behave around other people, children, other dogs or animals, or the sounds of passing cars, shopping carts etc. These things will all be foreign to him and can cause a range of behavior problems down the road.
Exactly how do you socialize a puppy? By exposing him to everyday life. Before I list examples of how to do this I want to make sure you understand a few things about socialization and the importance of where your puppy is in his vaccination schedule. Never take an unvaccinated or under vaccinated puppy into a public pet store, a dog park or a common area where lots of unknown dogs gather. Let your puppy be around dogs that belong to your friends and you know are healthy and fully vaccinated.
- Invite people to your home so that your puppy learns that it is okay for someone other than you to be inside your home. This can prevent your dog from becoming nervous, fearful or even aggressive when unknown people come into your home.
- Take your puppy to the exit door of a supermarket. Lots of different sounds and smells. As people exit the store, explain that your are getting your puppy used to lots of people and would they mind petting your puppy. If they have children, get the children to pet (gently!) the puppy also. Kids can be tough on dogs so be sure to supervise how they touch your puppy.
- Take your puppy to your vet just as a walk through. Let him get used to the smells and sounds. Have the vet techs and the vet pet him and give him a treat, then leave. No shots, no exam. Just a pleasant trip with cookies! Do this a couple of times so your puppy will not always associate your vet with something painful or uncomfortable.
- Let children you know be around your puppy. Be sure to supervise the children with the puppy and take this opportunity to teach children how to be gentle with dogs. The relationship between kids and dogs is a tricky one so be sure your puppy’s first experience with a child is only positive. No yelling or screeching, no pulling ears, no fingers in the eyes, no pulling of fur, just nice soft petting and talking to the puppy.
Socializing your puppy is important if you care about raising a secure, confident dog that won’t bark at every noise or snap at any strange person they see.
Once you have the socialization underway, it will be time to start training your dog in other behavioral areas. Teaching the puppy to sit and stay are the next steps. These behaviors are as important for their well being as socialization. Treat your pet as you would your child, so that they will grow up to be happy, secure and confident. You wouldn’t let your child train themselves, would you?
Be as comfortable with the trainer of your dog, as you are the teacher of your children and remember, “Opportunity Barks!”