Puppies pass through several developmental phases. Initial dog socialization begins in the litter. At seven to eight weeks puppies start to become more independent and ready to explore their environment. This is a very good age to bring your new puppy home. Around eight to 10 weeks your puppy will probably enter a fear period. During this period you will notice that your puppy sticks close to you and is easily frightened. Avoid loud noises or surprises during this period and keep new experiences very non-threatening. Once the fear period passes, at around 10 weeks of age, your puppy will enter the juvenile phase. He will be more inquisitive and wide-ranging in his explorations. This is a very good time to introduce new experiences! The juvenile period will last until your puppy becomes a young adult. Watch your pup carefully, though; some pups go through a second fear period around their fourth or fifth month.
When socializing your puppy, you must keep his health needs in mind. Until your dog's vaccinations are complete, he is at risk of catching Parvovirus, a widespread and deadly disease.
You should be extremely careful not to set him down in public places until his shots are complete. But do expose him to children and vaccinated dogs in a variety of places. Consult your veterinarian for advice about what else may pose a health risk for your puppy.
Getting Along With Other Dogs
Dogs have a language of their own. Using body posture, facial
expressions and vocalization, they communicate fear, anger, aggression, submission, playfulness and more. A puppy that grows up among other dogs will learn canine language and be able to communicate effectively. A puppy raised in isolation may misinterpret cues from other dogs or inadvertently send signals that may anger another animal.
Also, like children, puppies need to learn appropriate social behavior. When puppies play, an overly enthusiastic nip results in a yelp from another puppy. Persistent jumping on mom may result in a growl or snap of rebuke. In these ways, puppies learn the limits of play behavior.
During socialization, puppies should be allowed free playtime. They should be supervised to make sure puppy play doesn't become overly aggressive, especially if there's a big size difference among the dogs. A good way to give your puppy these important learning experiences is through puppy socialization classes. You may also be able to get together with other new dog owners to form a puppy playgroup.
Puppy socialization with other dogs begins in the litter and should continue, if possible, throughout the puppy and juvenile growth stages. A well-socialized puppy will probably mature into a dog that can be trusted to meet and play with other dogs. Note that socialization is even more important for dog-aggressive or dominant breeds. However, if you find your puppy becoming overly aggressive or overly afraid during play sessions, you should seek help from a professional to make sure the behavior is corrected before it becomes a problem.
Getting Along With People
Since our pets live in a human world, it is important for them to deal well with people. Early, positive exposure to lots of strangers, with praise or rewards for good behavior, will help your puppy grow up to become a well-behaved dog.
Invite friends to your home to meet and play with him. Ask adults to crouch down and avoid sudden movements when meeting your puppy. From his point of view, a human is HUGE. If you don't have young children of your own, invite friends' or neighbors' children. (Be sure to instruct kids in how to handle the puppy, and always supervise play!) Puppies that are not raised around children can develop aggressive behavior toward children when they grow older. Small children, who tend to run around and make high-pitched squealing noises, can trigger prey instincts in dogs who are not used to them. Some breeds don't do well with kids because of the strong prey instinct; other breeds are very good with children. If you have small children in your home, this is a very important factor to consider when choosing a dog.
As soon as your puppy has had all his shots, begin taking him to public places such as parks, where he can meet lots of friendly people. Also, make a point of introducing him to people of different ages and races, people in uniforms, and so on; dogs may become very wary when confronted with people who seem unusual in any way.
It is important to remember that you are teaching your puppy to be comfortable with people and to behave himself around them. Behavior that seems cute in a puppy, such as nipping and jumping, is no longer cute when the dog is an 80-pound adult! Whatever you don't want your dog to do as an adult, he should not be allowed to do as a puppy. Teach him the behavior you want and discourage the behavior you don't want.
Your well-socialized dog can still be a good watchdog. Your dog is smart enough to distinguish between people who you welcome into your home and people who should not be there.
Dealing With New Experiences
Everyday experiences can be very frightening for your new puppy. A pan dropped in the kitchen, a vacuum cleaner or a ride in the car can become traumatic events that the dog will try to avoid forever. Introduce your dog to as many new experiences as you can think of. Use rewards and encouragement to make the experiences positive, so your dog doesn't develop fears. If your puppy seems wary of something new, talk to him in a calm, positive voice. Don't baby him or use a comforting tone like "there, there puppy, don't be scared, everything's ok". Doing this actually reinforces his fearful reaction! Remember to keep new experiences very non-threatening and avoid startling the puppy during the fear period around 8 to 10 weeks.
For example, to accustom your puppy to a vacuum cleaner, first allow him to explore and sniff it without turning it on. Praise him or reward him as he explores. Then, when your puppy is a comfortable distance away, you may start up your vacuum cleaner, stand a little way from it and call him. If he approaches, encourage and praise him, or give him a reward. Gradually encourage the puppy to come closer to the vacuum. Repeat this experience several times, with lots of praise and rewards, and your puppy will soon have no fear of the vacuum.
To get your puppy used to riding in a car, first get in the car with him and play with him, or give him a reward. On the next outing, drive a few yards while someone holds your puppy and praises him. Work up to drives of a few minutes; keep them short so your puppy won't get sick. Afterwards, play with your puppy so he associates the car ride with a pleasant experience.
Other experiences to work on with your puppy include getting into his crate or kennel, walking on a leash, walking on different surfaces (such as tile, carpet, gravel, sand, grass and snow), climbing steps, and hearing the doorbell and telephone ring.
You can use the same approach to accustom your puppy to experiences that might otherwise be ordeals for both of you! Try the reward approach when brushing your puppy, giving him a bath and clipping his nails. You should also teach your puppy to let you handle his paws, ears, tail and even open his mouth without a struggle. Start with very short sessions, giving him a calm gentle little massage and use praise, play or rewards to keep the experience fun. This basic groundwork with your pup will make life much easier when your veterinarian needs to examine him!
Keep new experiences upbeat and positive and your dog will soon be a confident and happy companion.