Many times I’ve heard a prospective dog owner say, “I want the same breed as my friend’s dog. It has a marvelous temperament and does all kinds of tricks.” Or, “I’m going to get an “all-American mutt”. They’re better dogs.”
Even with a promising genetic potential or the characteristics that fit your profile of the ideal puppy, the kind of dog your puppy becomes will largely be determined by how you socialize it. The experiences a puppy encounters in its new environment are key factors in shaping its personality and temperament as an adult.
A puppy’s socialization begins with its mother and littermates and continues as it is placed in a new home and, to the puppy, a strange environment. Behavioral studies show that a key period of socialization for puppies to humans is from six to eight weeks. This is the time when the mother usually weans her puppies. The puppy’s nervous system is reaching the structural and functional capacities of an adult dog. Eight weeks is also the time a puppy is normally placed in its new home. It’s ready to learn and intensive socialization should begin.
Socializing your puppy means providing quality time. Give it lots of attention and affection. Pet it and call it by its chosen name. Introduce it to your neighbors and service people such as the mail carrier and others who come to your home regularly. Show children how to hold and pet it. Socializing your puppy to other dogs is important, but this does not mean letting it run free in the neighborhood. Give it the opportunity for safe, controlled interaction with dogs whose owners you know and be sure the dogs are immunized.
As your puppy explores its new environment, it may inadvertently damage some items by chewing. This is part of its exploration. If your puppy damages something or has an accident, do not punish it or speak harshly to it unless you catch it in the act. Even then, punishment should be administered carefully. The only thing a puppy learns from harsh or untimely punishment is to fear you. Begin to introduce it to basic commands, “come,” “sit,” and “stay.” Praise it for positive responses.
In socializing your puppy, remember that the “pack instinct” every dog inherits must be controlled. Your puppy will test you and other family members by attempting to establish dominance as leader of the pack. All family members should cooperate in establishing and enforcing a code of conduct for your puppy. To help it understand that it must obey the rules of the house, be consistent in reprimanding and in praising it. Eye contact and a firm “no” usually deter an undesirable activity.
Utilize every opportunity to socialize your puppy. Make feeding time a happy experience by praising your puppy for being a “good dog” as you place its dish on the floor. Considerable puppy-owner bonding can occur through positive feeding experiences.
Feeding can also aid in training your puppy. As you place its food dish on the floor, give the command, “Come,” preceded by the name you have chosen for it. This introduces your puppy to an obedience command and helps teach it to respond to its name.
As your puppy settles into its new home, it may encounter new situations, which will be potentially stressful to it. Helping your puppy adjust to these situations minimizes future behavior problems. You may find that your puppy is frightened by loud noises. During a thunderstorm, fireworks or when appliances are operating, such as the dishwasher or vacuum sweeper, play with your puppy as you normally do or pet and reassure it that the noises are simply “business as usual.” Reward it with a dog snack for being calm during the noise.
Gradually accustom your puppy to being left alone. Begin with brief periods of separation and gradually increase the time. When unattended, leave your puppy in its crate or in an area where it cannot do any damage. Give it a favorite chew bone and/or a favorite toy to help prevent boredom.
As you socialize and train your puppy, remember that puppies are eager to please. Reward your puppy for good behavior by praising it. A little praise goes a long way in helping your puppy become an endearing companion.
What is the potential for socializing dogs that have had minimum exposure to people and other dogs during their first three months? The chances of turning such a dog into a family pet depend upon the amount of time the owner is committed to spending with the dog. Considerable time and patience are musts. It can be done, but it is not an easy task.
A closing thought…
Consistency among all family members in introducing a puppy or an older dog to social skills is essential.
In addition to consistency, please remember the three P’s: