We tend to forget these days that dogs are pack animals. Many of us may have just one dog, or even two. But we don’t see them as they were in nature. Left to their own devices, dogs join up into a pack, often of related animals. Like their wolf cousins and ancestors, dogs have a hierarchical structure to their packs, with leaders, assistants, subordinates and followers. In nature dogs would learn everything they need to know, including dog manners, from their mother and other pack mates.
To live in our world of cars, buildings and cell phones, we have taken dogs almost completely out of their natural world. In many places they exist without even having fields and forests anymore to share with their humans as they did only 100-200 years ago. The only way they can exist in our world is if we teach them the skills they need to understand it and to thrive in it. This means we have to socialize them to the human world and to the people in it.
Socialization means much more than learning a few commands. Socialization is learning, from birth, to accept humans. Good breeders begin socializing puppies from the day of their birth, picking them up and holding them, stroking them and talking to them, getting them used to sights and sounds in the house. This should continue for the first seven weeks of life, with puppies being introduced to new things each week.
From the age of 8 weeks to 12 weeks, the time when many people get their new puppy, puppies are going through a fear imprinting stage. This means that it is very easy at this time for anything that frightens the puppy to be remembered for the rest of their life. New owners should take special care during this time to bolster their puppy’s confidence. Do let puppies see new things and introduce them to new places and people. Give them time to see that there is nothing to be afraid of. Give plenty of praise when the puppy is brave and curious about things. Try not to encourage your puppy to be fearful at this time or reward fearful behavior. If a loud noise or something frightens your puppy, instead of cuddling the puppy take him to see what it is and show him that it’s okay. Dance, laugh, be positive instead of petting the puppy for being fearful. This is the difference between a fearful adult dog and a confident one later in life.
Introduce your puppy to many different people during this time to help him learn that he has nothing to fear from strangers and that he can meet them and be friendly. Take him for short rides in the car. Introduce many strange things at this time, such as umbrellas and the vacuum cleaner if he has not already encountered them. Let him see normal things in unexpected places in the house. Make sure he gets used to being groomed and bathed during this time. And, of course, make sure he learns some leash training. This is helpful since he will be going to the vet for his shots during this time. Makes these pleasant experiences for him (especially bathing) and your future experiences will be much better.
Exercise basic common sense, of course. Don’t allow your puppy to put himself in any danger while encouraging him to be confident. Don’t allow him to wander where other animals have left droppings. Remember that your puppy is not fully vaccinated yet so limit his socialization time with any unknown pets. Don’t make your puppy do anything that is frightening for him. Puppies at this age will remember things forever. You want to encourage confidence, not ask them to do more than they can cope with. And, remember that your puppy is just a baby at this time. He needs lots of sleep and several small meals during the day. You should only have a couple of socialization sessions per day along with things that occur on their own.
The socialization period continues until dogs are about 20 weeks old. By that time their basic personality is in place, though socialization can continue for months. You’ll begin to see your puppy making his own decisions about what he wants to do, what he likes and doesn’t like, what frightens him and what he’s confident about.
Early socialization is an extremely important time in the life of every dog. You can help your dog adapt to living with humans by working with him during this time and make your future life together a very happy one.
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