How to Socialize a Puppy and Things to Avoid
How do you socialize a puppy? This seems like an easy enough task, right?
I mean, you just take your puppy out and expose him to things…. Seems like one of the easiest ideas and tasks available when it comes to your new puppy.
If you think that, socializing a puppy is a simple and easy process you are WRONG!
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Puppies are young and pliable.
Think of your toddler: if you threw him into a body of water, or if he was traumatized by a farmer in a red tractor; he might very well suffer from a lifetime of the fear of large bodies of water and farmers with red tractors.
Of course, no one in their right mind would throw a toddler into an open body of water; and chances are a farmer with a red tractor is not likely to hurt or traumatize you and your family. But these overwhelming and traumatic experiences leave lasting imagines in a young mind.
As adults, former positive experiences can override a generalization that something fairly benign and regularly not threatening things are terrifying across the board.
So for the young, socialization and exposition (exposing someone or something to something) is something to be taken seriously.
Socialization is a Process
What people don’t realize is that socialization is a process. Puppy kindergarten classes can be important, we will get to that later. But socialization classes are not the do all end all when it comes to learning about life and a puppy’s environment!
It, also, isn’t as easy as leashing your puppy up and hitting the trails or the streets. Socializing your puppy isn’t always informal and easy.
I have a love hate relationship with the internet, you can literately find anything pro or against whatever stance you are taking. This is super frustrating, as a professional dog trainer and a medical professional. It also makes common sense even less common!!!
But I found from information from Berkley (yes, Berkley East Bay Humane) and so I thought I would share it for you to read about puppy fear stages and fear of situations and people places.
Many people don’t realize that puppies have fear stages…. But they certainly do. One day your puppy may be or seem very outgoing and the next he can appear fearful and apprehensive. And, it is critical not to try and push your puppy past or through these stages in a negative or overwhelming way.
Imagine being a little fearful but then someone trying to walk you past a jackhammer. You may never like loud noises !
Flooding is a form of behavior modification where you are faced with an overwhelming amount of your fear. Let us say that you are afraid of snakes. Flooding would dictate to take you to a place full of snakes and let you understand that these snakes are not likely to hurt you.
However, if you are truly terrified of snakes, this form of behavior modification and training can actually make your fear worse; and not better. You could panic and form more of terror response than you formerly had!
Be careful not to “flood” a puppy that is trying to work through a fear. Even if the fear seems irrational to you and your family. It is up to you as a dog owner to raise a well behaved dog free of fears and the irrational and aggressive responses that may follow.
After all, I personally like snakes… so I might think that a fear of snakes is irrational.
Read these guidelines from Berkley.
Fear can be very serious for fearful dogs and dog owners.
Overwhelming fearful situations people places, weird strangers, strange dog and loud noises must be avoided so that dog owners can enjoy a well behaved dog, for a lifetime.
7 weeks to 9 weeks is probably the most critical. This is why many breeders won’t ship puppies at this age, because it can negatively affect them for lifetime. Breeders will carefully socialize and let the puppy work through these weeks without risking that the new puppy owner will inadvertently traumatize the puppy during these weeks.
If you pick your own puppy up during these weeks, remember that they are still very critical. Socialize and expose your puppy to people, places, and well behaved and well socialized dogs that you know so that nothing horrifying accidentally happens!
From Another point of View
People places and People
I know that some of you have a love/hate relationship with my analogies comparing babies or toddlers to puppies. However, I think we take “motherhood” or parenting much more seriously and realistically. Would you pass your screaming or fighting petrified child to someone you didn’t know when you knew the child was terrified of the person for whatever reason? Chances are that unless that person is family, that you trust, you would not. You would respect that the baby is scared and understand that we don’t want to make it worse.
Take your dog’s or your puppy’s body language and your dog’s or your puppy’s behavior into account when it comes to safe socialization. Animal behavior is very easy to read, when we pay attention! Try to encourage independence while not creating fear and force when it comes to sights and sounds that your puppy will encounter. DO NOT coddle him or reinforce his fear, when you see it, but also avoid flooding and making it worse. Ironically both stances: coddling and cooing “it’s okay, it’s okay” and flooding will both make his fears worse! Remember that good, respectable and healthy socialization takes time.
Click here to understand why too much love and control will also make it worse.
The Broken Puppy
A good friend of mine handed her new Jack Russell puppy to one of her kids’ friends. The child inadvertently dropped the puppy and broke her leg; and the puppy never liked children that she didn’t know ever again. There was an association with pain, trauma, and terror when children entered the environment and the situation. Accidents happen but it t is up to you to keep your puppy safe, or as safe as you possibly can!
If you want a child to socialize your puppy, have them sit down in order to hold the puppy. Or let them safely play with the puppy with a toy. Utilize a leash to help you control the puppy. These things can help from a healthy generalization that children are good instead of bad. Interactions can be controlled by you!
Yet somehow, we expect our puppies to work it out by themselves…. Eventually they may work it out in a healthy way so that you end up with a confident dog. They may bond to you, they may trust you. And, eventually if you are working diligently you may see a huge difference.
But don’t push a terrified person or animal to “socialize” when they don’t want to! The only way to get away is “fight or flight” and if the dog feels he can’t get away (flight) he has to choose fight (aggression) and you could very well be teaching aggression as a coping mechanism when they are uncomfortable. Read this.
How We Create Fear Aggression and Why it is So Frightening
Correcting the Aggression
When a puppy or an adult dog feels “fight” and can’t get away with “flight”, he often shows a series of aggressive behaviors; growling, lunging, showing teeth etc. as a way to deflate his fear and the situation. He is communicating that he is uncomfortable. When a dog owner physically or verbally corrects the dog for this behavior, he is often making the situation worse.
I mean it seems like allowing this behavior is a bad idea, but by only adding physical and verbal corrections or force you aren’t changing how the dog is feeling about the sights and sounds and situation going on around him. We aren’t making him more confident! We are actually only correcting the “warning system” the growling, lunging, etc. So, the dog learns, instead, that the growling etc. is not what the dog owner wants. This inhibits his warning but not how he is feeling. So next time, the dog is much more likely to just bite instead of warning someone that he is going to bite! This is not a good situation and this is why I say a growl can be a good thing.
Fearful puppies often lead to fearful adult dogs with bad behavior. We certainly don’t want one or two situations to lead a fearful life. I was sideswiped in my car yesterday, but I don’t want to be afraid to drive forever. Fear is never good.
Independence and the short abundance of healthy respect helps us to not get squished like the running squirrel in the middle of the road who couldn’t make a decision. We need to learn independence and how to make decisions on our own. Remember don’t coddle! Let your puppy work out some things on his own.
Coddling your puppy and cooing “it’s okay, it’s okay” will also create serious and dangerous aggression, just as much if not more so as correcting aggression. It reinforces the puppy’s fear and even if the puppy is not aggressive or showing aggressive behaviors yet, this reinforcement and reward of fear will often create serious aggression and some confidence because the dog feels that the owner likes and appreciates the fear and aggression.
Be careful what you reinforce!
Puppies are cute.
Even the fearful or aggressive ones. People often scoff and laugh and marvel when an aggressive puppy with severe behavior problems comes into a veterinary hospital. I mean how dangerous can a 6 week old 10 pound puppy appear?
Add 150 pounds to that aggressive puppy and it is no longer even remarkably cute. Aggressive adults dogs are terrifying. These dogs can be afraid of strangers, loud noises and just a basic fear of the unknown because they were never exposed to anything or safely socialized when they were young, are chilling. The early stages of dog body language often says they will kill what opposes them, or at least go to war with them (fight). Animal behavior isn’t always easy for people who aren’t paying attention. I notice changes of behavior very quickly and respect all information given to me. “Whale eye”, snarling, growling are all assessed even in dogs I like or had never previously seen aggression. I want to understand what the dog is telling me, no matter what!
Adults Dogs Can Simply Kill People
I have seen numerous articles of people’s own dogs that killed them. One was being visited at a quarantine facility and the other was on a hiking trail. The police said they had never and did never want to see anything as horrific as that again. What amazes me is that neither of these people claim to have ever seen any “signs”.
Read the latest article here.
We aren’t teaching our puppies impulse control. I had seen pics of some of these dogs and had seen the “whale eye” of the dog who didn’t want to be hugged. Yet, whose owner forces the hug and close contact on them. Just because the dog doesn’t growl or show blatant aggression doesn’t mean he likes it.
I can’t tell you how many owners tell me that their dog will growl over food, or toys, or getting them off of the sofa when they don’t want to move but would NEVER bite. A “first bite” starts somewhere and behaviors give us cues before aggression happens. Don’t ignore what your dog is trying to tell you.
Just because the dog allows it and the owner can’t necessarily see the aggression (in the “selfie” picture etc.) Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t see signs or feel the dog bristle. People have become trusting and clueless and naïve when it comes to animals. Dogs are animals, most have been domesticated but not all of them have been domesticated to the same levels.
Dogs, also, don’t hug one another. Hugging is a dominant behavior to animals. Some dogs and puppies can be taught to show affection in this way, but few enjoy it. My female dog enjoys a brief hug, but I let her put her neck over mine in a kind greeting. I don’t grab her and hug her. I would NEVER, EVER allow a child to hug any of my dogs! Hugging = restraint to animals, that is why working at veterinary clinics can be so difficult and dangerous for technicians and veterinarians. No one wants to feel negatively “restrained”.
Prey drive also brings another dynamic. One dog might not kill you…. But 2 to 3 dogs especially that live in a cohesive group become a pack and your chances are much less for your chance to survive if you are trying to fight off a pack.
Control, train and socialize your puppy in a healthy manner before adding another dog or another puppy! This will drastically drop the chances of prey aggression.
What Do You Do?
Start by socializing your puppy with well known and calm family, friends, and dogs that you know! This helps you to control the people which helps control the environment and allows the puppy to be socialized in a tranquil manner.
Begin training right away! I want my puppy to have healthy behaviors and learn impulse control before I begin adding people and dogs that I don’t know. This provides my puppy with some coping skills if a frightening situation begins or occurs.
Service Dogs begin training in their own environment as soon as their eyes open! They are well controlled and have coping mechanisms before they ever hit 7 weeks or go outside with anyone they don’t know. This allows them to begin to bond and build some healthy relationships and form some independence on their own. After all, learning feels good and leads to independence. Learning rarely leads to fear and codependence or aggression.
To find out more about Service Dogs click here.
Enroll in puppy socialization classes and/or puppy kindergarten classes! I am a firm believer that, again, my puppy should already have the existing training so that I am in control and he is already more independent and he is familiar and confident with some obedience skills.
But be careful, puppy kindergarten can be fun…. But some puppies pick on others. Don’t let them socialize while you are training! It isn’t conducive to impulse control and training and can be confusing.
And be especially careful of puppy playtime. I have seen puppy kindergarten get out of hand quickly. One or two dogs will pick a lesser dog in the class and give chase. Some of this is normal, but if the dog being chased has fearful body language (tucked tail or cowering or trying to get away) give everyone a time out.
A good trainer will not allow that to happen, nothing wants to feel like prey all of the time! Stop play that is too rough, give short time out and then let them play again. But not all dog trainers are created equally. Be more cautious of pet store puppy training, often these trainers just don’t have the experience.
I literally have a good friend with a Pug puppy and when she went to puppy kindergarten class and the other dogs would give chase, the trainers would make the Pug puppy sit in the corner on the leash and watch and sometimes be approached by these dogs again (this time feeling restricted and not being able to get away). It created some dog aggression at 10 weeks. These trainers were not created equal and had no business running puppy class! Be careful who you allow your children and dogs to learn from, it is your job to put your foot down.
Yes aggressive puppies exist. I used to have videos of 6 week old puppies biting HARD and with severe aggression. It isn’t typical but it does happen! Be aware. If it doesn’t feel right step in and break it up. No one likes to be bullied all of the time,
I literarily can pick out puppies who are lucky to become dog aggressive later in life. They are often very dominant and serious with their play.
This doesn’t make these bad puppies and it also doesn’t mean they have to grow up to be dog aggressive!
Please drill into your head that NOT ALL DOGS NEED TO PLAY TO BE SOCIAL.
I DON’T NEED TO WANT TO GO GET DRINKS WITH YOU OR PLAY BOARD GAMES TO BE SOCIAL WITH AND HAVE FUN WITH YOU.
Your dog can simply walk next to the other dog to be social.
This is THE Big one!!!!!!!
Play does not = Sociability!!!!
SOCIABILITY IS NOT FRIENDLY ALWAYS BEHAVIOR.
Sociability is controlling yourself around those you may or may not like and have coping mechanisms and independence in unknown situations. Again, we lead back to the confidence that training brings!
If you approach sociability this way you will end up with a happy, well behaved, and confident dog.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.