Socialization is an important part of your puppy’s development. While still young, your puppy needs to be exposed to as many different things, people, places and situations as possible. Experts agree that there is a short period of opportunity for early exposure up to approximately six months of age. Generally speaking, the things puppy is exposed to regularly during this period, she will accept as being normal and therefore avoid fear reactions later in life. Dogs do not readily understand our world and can’t extrapolate situations from one area to another. This means they need to be exposed to everything they possibly can be in order to live comfortably in the human world.
Avoid Having a Fearful Dog
Not socializing your dog is running the risk of having a dog that is fearful. Fear can be displayed in a number of different ways, running from aggression all the way to avoidance. It may be inconvenient if your dog won’t walk across hardwood floors or runs and hides during a thunderstorm. It can be a tragedy for you and your dog if her fear of a situation, people or things results in your dog snapping at or biting someone. Think of the little kid who just wants to play, but your dog doesn’t know that. She only sees that small, fast moving, unpredictable, noisy creature as a threat.
For example, Izzy is familiar with the normal state of the backyards that back onto our property. She knows the people and things that belong in those backyards. One day, for a birthday party, one of our neighbors brought in a bouncy castle, blown up by a generator. When she saw the castle in the yard, she growled and barked like crazy at it. She had no idea that this was something harmless, because she had never seen it before. She just knew it was something that wasn’t there normally and she was warning about the change.
This is a pretty mild example, but a less socialized dog could exhibit much more dramatic reactions to things that are actually harmless, from aggression to hiding.
Expose Puppy to Many Different Things
Exposing your puppy to as many different situations and things as often as possible will get puppy acclimated to the human world. Don’t forget that up until now, she has more than likely only been exposed to the environment that her mother was in, which was probably pretty sheltered. She’s been with her mother, her litter mates and her mother’s humans and their house. She probably hasn’t been exposed to much in the world. It is up to you to get her familiar and comfortable with the new environment she’ll be living in.
Take your puppy everywhere you possibly can and expose her to everything and as many different people as you can. And when we say everything, we mean everything! You want puppy to encounter and interact with toddlers, children, teens, men, women, older adults, all races, all colors, all shapes, heights and sizes. People with long hair, short hair and facial hair. Don’t forget about exposing puppy to people wearing different things as well, including, but not limited to hats, high heels and coats. Also people with things such as canes, umbrellas, walkers and wheelchairs, if possible.
Take your puppy to as many different environments as possible such as friends’ houses, parks, stores, downtown, etc. You’ll be surprised at how many places will actually allow dogs. Parks are great because you’ll have lots of different people doing all kinds of different things, making all kinds of different noises. It also exposes puppy to normal child behavior so that he gets used to it. We see kids as being kids and understand how kids play, a dog who is unfamiliar with children sees them as loud, fast moving, unpredictable creatures that are potential threats. There will be people rollerblading, on skate boards and bikes and playing all different sorts of games.
Taking puppy downtown or taking her to busy sections of town, will expose her to crowds of people walking quickly and lots of different noises and traffic.
Taking puppy to pet stores will get her familiar and comfortable with store environments, different people and other dogs.
You will want to expose puppy to as many different types of surfaces as you possibly can. This is to avoid having issues with things like if you decide to change the tiled floor to hardwood and your dog decides she doesn’t want to walk across it because she’s afraid of it. Or something as simple as a trip to the beach and your dog refuses to walk on sand. Look for different types of flooring to expose puppy to such as carpet, tile, hardwood, stone and linoleum. Look for different types of outdoor surfaces such as tall grass, dirt, mud, sand, gravel, pavement and asphalt.
Try to expose your puppy to as many different types of weather as you get in your area. Take puppy for walks in the rain, so she gets used to being out in it. This will help avoid the dog who really needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of a rainstorm, but won’t because she doesn’t like the rain. If you can safely be outside during a thunderstorm, do so to de-sensitize puppy to the flashing light and noise.
Dogs that hide in storms are a very common thing. The year we got Izzy was not only a bad year for snowstorms, but also for thunderstorms. We took the opportunity to go outside and hang out with our neighbors in the garage while the storms were going on. Remain calm and act as though there is nothing going on around you. Don’t react to the noise or the flashing light. Now, thunderstorms and loud noises such as fireworks don’t phase her in the slightest.
Expose puppy to all kinds of household noises such as the vacuum, alarm clocks, smoke detectors, blenders, mixers and any other noisy appliance that you can think of. This will save you from incessant barking when you use these things or from having to coax a scared animal out from a hiding spot. Also don’t forget about outside noise as well. Lawnmowers, screaming kids, crowds at neighborhood sporting events such as baseball games, football games, soccer etc. This will get puppy used to people moving, running, kicking things, hitting things, screaming and cheering.
You should expose your puppy to as many different types of animals as possible with as many different types of temperaments as possible. Calm dogs, hyper dogs, active dogs, lazy dogs. Cats and other pets as well. Depending on your situation, farm animals – horses, cows, sheep, pigs etc. may be a good idea too.
Do Not Comfort a Dog that is Afraid
It is important to remember that if puppy shows any fear with any new situation, do not coddle her and no cooing. This can’t be stressed enough. Do not speak to her sympathetically and pet her. This has the opposite effect of what you are intending and actually reinforces in her mind that there actually is something to be worried about or afraid of. Do not react to her fear. Dogs go along with their pack leader, which is you. Pack leaders are calm, confident and do not show fear, unless they feel there is something to be worried about. Your puppy will think that there really is something to worry about if you react to her fear. Do not speak to your puppy at this time and do not comfort her.
Comfort is a sign of weakness in a dog’s mind. Continue doing what you are doing calmly and confidently as though there is nothing wrong and as though your puppy has not reacted to the situation. Ignore your puppy’s reaction. You puppy will take her cues from you and will learn to trust the feelings that you are projecting. Calmness and confidence is what indicates to a dog that there is nothing to be worried about.
Puppies are a blank slate and it is your job to fill that slate with as many different (positive) experiences as possible to produce a well-adjusted dog. Exposing puppy to everything you possibly can will reduce fear reactions which can cause problems in the future.
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