Each and every week, I have countless discussions with new puppy parents about the importance of starting training and socialization early.
Most recently, a new puppy owner told me that her breeder instructed her to only bring in a dog walker or trainer after 16 weeks of age, when the pup would be vaccinated. The woman and her puppy were instructed to remain holed up in an NYC apartment for over two months! I was shocked and a bit angry. How can you give such misguided advice?
When new human babies come home from the hospital, what happens? The house is inundated with guests. Yes, some households may instruct people to wash hands etc, but point being, it's a round robin for the mom and baby. So, you've got humans bringing in, and possibly exposing communicable disease and virus to new human babies, but for puppies, we need to totally quarantine them!? Out of fear that a human might bring something in - on their shoes!? BAD ADVICE!
Once I speak to new puppy parents, most agree and understand the logic behind my position of "get your puppy out and about from minute one."
BUT then, three days later, they head off to a veterinarian (schooled many years ago before animal behaviour was part of the veterinarian curriculum) that believes puppies should be quarantined until they are 16 weeks of age. Drat! Hurdle two!
Now, it's me, the dog trainer "get your puppy out and about," versus good ole' DOCTOR so and so, "you would be irresposible to take your young puppy out before vaccinating."
This has been going on for a full decade (for me). I normally try to do my best to softly step around the blatant, "THAT'S BAD ADVICE," mouth explosion, but now I'm blowing the lid on it.
If your vet instructs you to keep your puppy indoors, it's time to ask questions.
Modern veterinarians, who are keeping up on the latest with animal behaviour, encourage puppy parents to start socializing their dog right away! The quote below is pulled directly from the position statment of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior:
The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing overstimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior. For this reason, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.
You may read the full position statement here:
Dr. Ian Dubar (rock star vet-behaviorist) recommends that a puppy meets 100 new people before the age of three months! So, get your puppy treats, people snacks and throw a puppy party!
Why all the fuss? Why is socialization so important? Behaviour problems are the number one cause of death for young dogs. It's not thenumerous dieases that we're warned to protect our dogs from, but behaviour problems (asvabonline.org). Millions of dogs are surrender to shleters each year as a result of behaviour. These behaviour problems are most often the result of a lack of early socialization and training.
Young animal brains are little sponges ready to absorb the world. This developmental stage however is fast and fleeting. Your puppy is most likely to acclimate and accept people and animals early on. Once that fleeting phase of developmental passes (after 12 weeks), you will need to work immensely harder to make up for the missed opportunities. Even then, your work may not pay off.
Here are some things you can do to socialize your puppy:
1. Enroll in a puppy socialization class.
2. Throw a puppy party (invite people to visit you and your puppy).
3. Sit on a park bench and people watch with your puppy.
4. Sit near a playground where kids will zoom by fast and fleeting.
5. Take your pup to the groomer or vet for short quick "treat" sessions.
6. Take your pup shopping to dog-friendly retail stores.
7. Take your pup to a sidewalk cafe. All of the above experiences should be positive for your puppy. That means, you control the environment. Pair these occasions with treats or games, teaching your pup that new people are fun and delicious (ha!).
Use your pup's regular kibble when meeting adults, "Can you give my puppy a piece of food?" When meeting children, use high value items, like boiled chicken, tiny crumbles of cheese. This will teach your puppy that kids (while a bit loud or squirmy) are wonderful to be around! When playing with other animals, do your best to not over-protect your puppy. It can be difficult, but remember that puppy and dog play looks a bit rough and tumble. Nibbling ears, open mouths, sing-song like growls are all very normal.
Allow your puppy to do his thing and engage in normal dog wrestling. If you are unsure of what's normal - attend a puppy class to view off leash play. Tick-tock goes the clock - get your puppy out and about! I'm off to visit a wee 8 week old pup who just arrived home on Saturday. After me, he likely just needs to meet 95 or so people in the next month!