The importance of Early Socialization in Puppies
There is a special ''grace period'' during a puppy's development, during which the puppy must be exposed to a large range of people so that the puppy will be able to learn to accept and not fear humans. It is unfortunate that many owners are not aware of this important stage and refrain from sufficiently socializing their puppy. Often this leads to fearful behaviors such as barking to strangers, becoming submissive urinators and cowering upon being pet.
Often the socialization period in puppies coincides with the time where puppies are most vulnerable to infectious diseases. Veterinarians may therefore, recommend limiting a puppy's outings so to reduce the chances of exposure to other puppies and grounds were puppies tend to aggregate. Often, this clashes against the socialization recommendations of taking puppies along to expose them to the world as much as possible.
This is a very debated issue, most puppies are not completely vaccinated until they are approximately 16 weeks old. However, up to that age, puppies should be exposed as much as possible to other people and dogs. This is the ''grace period'' mentioned above, where puppies undergo the most relevant and imprintable time of their lives. It is vital therefore to ensure that puppies are exposed only to other healthy young dogs that have completed their vaccination series. Unfamiliar dogs should be avoided and in order to avoid exposure to contaminated feces it may be helpful to carry the puppy in a special bag, known as a Sherpa bag.
How Puppies are Socialized
From Birth to 4 weeks of Age
Breeders should start their puppy's socialization early. As early at 2 and a half week, puppies should be handled by the breeder for a minute each day. The time the puppy is handled should then be increased every week, up to 5 minutes when the puppy is 4 weeks old. This daily handling, allows the puppy to bond with humans and is a process called ''imprinting''.
From 4 weeks to 16 weeks of age
After 4 weeks the puppies should be used to the smell of humans and their gently touch. Between 4 weeks and 16 weeks puppies undergo the most critical phase of socialization. It is at this stage that puppies should be exposed to young children, other pets and humans in a positive matter.
Around 8 weeks most puppies are adopted. At this stage, it is the owner's responsibility to take over the socialization process. This means much more than taking the puppy to the vet and meeting other dogs and people there. Puppies must be taken everywhere possibly imaginable and exposed to all people, tall, short, of different racial backgrounds, disabled, seniors, toddlers and babies. However, precautions must be taken before the puppy has completed all immunizations.
In order to be socialized well, puppies should be exposed to people from all ages and walks of life. They should also be exposed to various places other than their home. This means taking the puppy out on walks and car rides. The puppy should get gradually accustomed to different scenarios with different scents sights and sounds.They should also get accustomed to walking on different surfaces, grass, asphalt, snow, puddles, mud. The experiences should be multi sensorial so to expose the dog to a multitude of experiences. This often means taking the puppy to the city, stores, children play grounds, construction sites, music events etc. The more places the puppy is taken to, the better. Treats may be given every now and then to praise your dog's social behavior and to provide positive reinforcement when the pup is exposed to people and new places.
After 16 weeks of age
If you puppy was not properly socialized within that ''grace period'' what happens? Usually, as an owner you may still be on time to guide your dog through remedial socialization, but its impact may not be as strong as when applied at the right time. It is very important to know how to react to your puppy's fears. Show guidance and leadership by standing tall ad ignoring the behavior or putting your dog in a sit position. Your puppy will admire your confidence and take you as an example to follow.
In conclusion, it is important to realize that when it comes to properly socializing your puppy, an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure. Take advantage of socializing your dog during that '' important socialization window'' so to grant a potential social and stable tempered dog, You certainly do not want to realize you own a fearful, unsocialized, potentially aggressive dog, 105 pounds later, when not much is left to do, other than keeping your dog secluded from humans and lead a sad solitary life.