Puppies are cute, snuggly, entertaining, and they make us feel super important because they need us. We provide food, shelter, bathroom breaks, and a ton of time teaching them what are acceptable puppy/people interactions.
People LOVE puppies... and puppies LOVE people (generally). We often think of puppies are our extended family and want to take them everywhere with us.
Raising a puppy is fairly easy; however, raising a well-rounded, confident puppy who is a joy to be around as an adult dog is a bit more challenging. Puppies have emotional needs, in addition to their physical needs, and we must "feed" both appropriately. Do you have an outgoing Ready Freddy type of puppy, or a Wallflower Wendy? Each new puppy needs to be greeted differently and will need a different socialization strategy. But what is socialization, anyway?
Many well-meaning people can overwhelm puppies when greeting them by quickly picking up the puppy, holding them tightly, getting immediately in their faces, and allowing the puppy no choice in coming, going, or staying with the human. Imagine going to a party where everyone is much bigger than you, picks you up, holds you tightly, and then brings their teeth very close to you while talking loudly.... SCARY! The quality of socialization interactions is more important than quantity, and introducing your puppy in a safe environment to people of different ethnicity, wearing different clothing (hats, gloves, sunglasses, scarves) goes a long way to prepare our puppies for adulthood.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior's position statement on socialization is:
The introduction of safe situations at the puppy's own pace is the goal. If you think about it, we as people prefer this for ourselves also!
How is best to socialize your pup?
1) Choose safe locations (you are your puppy’s advocate). A safe location is rarely Pet’sMart or PetCo unless it is near closing or opening time. You want a high ratio of staff & a low ratio of dogs parading around on (or off) leash.
2) Give the new person a cookie or two – let your puppy walk up to the new person where they earn a treat for approaching (1 cookie) and then sitting (another cookie). Thank the person & move to a new adult. If your puppy jumps up – then your new person’s hands need to be lower. Give the cookie when the puppy has 4 feet on the floor. DO NOT say OFF, DOWN, scream, or otherwise scare the puppy if for some reason the visit does not go as you planned. Remember that this meet & greet is to learn that people are friendly, fun, and not scary. It is always ok to politely remove your puppy.
3) If you have a small puppy – hand your puppy to the new person where they give a tiny cookie or two. Thank the person & move on. It is very important not to overwhelm your puppy.
4) Invite people over to your house or go to visit a dog-friendly family you know (without their dog loose). Wine & cheese parties can be fun – but keep them short because puppies have short attention spans.
5) Within what you can manage, have your puppy meet all looks/kinds of people, but safety for your puppy is first! Generally, puppies should not meet children under 10 in the first few weeks out and about because both puppy and young children can behave unpredictably.
6) Remember: fun – short – safe VISITS will help your puppy become a well socialized and happy adult!
7) Dog parks should generally be avoided for puppies since they often contain unsupervised adult dogs where very negative associations can occur.
When you take it “on the road”:
· Take a variety of pea-sized tasty treats
· Bring puppy’s favorite toy
· Bring a hungry puppy
· Bring water bowl, proper fitting buckle collar/harness and a 6 foot leash
· Be aware of your puppy’s body language (listen & watch)
· Be your puppy’s advocate (all humans and dogs can be scary)
· Allow your puppy to explore at their own pace; the puppy should approach the kneeling person, not the other way around.
· Be sure situations are controllable. Be prepared to remove your puppy from the situation
· HAVE FUN!!
Do you have questions? Want more information? Set up a behavioral consult with Professional Dog Trainer Lynn Rives or join one of our Puppy Classes, held on an ongoing basis at Southpoint Animal Hospital.
American Veterinary Medical Association. (2018). Socialization of Dogs and Cats. Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Pages/Socialization.aspx
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. (2018). Puppy Socialization Position Statement. Retrieved from https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Puppy_Socialization_Position_Statement_Download_-_10-3-14.pdf