The Importance of Human/Puppy Socialization in Dog Training
Puppies are like babies experiencing the world with each step and sniff, except they are on an extremely accelerated learning program! It takes our kids 18 years to be ready to experience the world on their own and be considered adults, but puppies are usually considered full grown anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.
That means as the owners and breeders of puppies we have a very short period of time to make sure our little angels are well trained and socialized before it is too late and they make up their own minds about their world! Not all puppies are born social wonders, some of them are nervous about people and things they don’t know and they must be carefully taught how to appropriately conquer and care for things in their environment without causing trauma or distress.
Puppies have a short period of time during brain development when they are most impressionable usually up to about 15 weeks of age. They learn more during this time frame than they will in their whole lifetime. They learn how to experience their world, what things are happy, sad, exciting, or terrifying. The quality and quantity of these events has a huge impact on the development of their personalities and can determine the tendency toward good and bad behavior.
The first 7-8 weeks the pup is developing rapidly and learning about his environment through his mother and siblings. This is why I am adamant that I don’t take a puppy prior to 8 weeks old, there are just some things he can only learn from his mother and brothers and sisters; like appropriate bite inhibition.
The second stage is between 8-14 weeks and this is the optimal time for pups to acclimate to their new homes. This is the time to teach your new pup how to be well socialized and start training. Both socialization and training are key during this period of time!
Between 8-11 weeks some puppies go through a fear-impact period, where traumatic or scary events are likely to scar your puppy for life and negative and shy behaviors can last a lifetime! It is essential during this period to control the quality of the socialization that occurs and if your pup becomes scared or nervous back up and get him out of the situation, even if the situation seems normal or is not scary for you.
I just got a nervous puppy! I did all my research and homework and the breeder passed all questions with flying colors. Even when I visited the puppies they were in a busy home full of children and were outgoing while together. However, when I separated my new pup from his siblings and mother he has become a bit insecure.
His idea right now is; If you don’t know what it is…growl at it! This is an unacceptable behavior in my house. My house is far too busy, and I have WAY too much “Life” planned for this pup for him to be insecure, nervous, shy, much less have any aggressive tendencies!
He is 8 weeks old, and just beginning his first fear stage, so I must be very careful not to enhance his fears by forcing too much socialization on him at one time in an uncontrolled environment. I have to learn to read his behaviors and be able to control the people and things that come into his environment.
Some trainers advise flooding; where the dog is flooded with the stimulation to the point he realizes it is not scary or stressful and therefore in theory overcomes his fears. However, flooding can back fire and make the process worse.
Imagine your worst fear; spiders, heights, being confined or buried. Now imagine that your therapy required you to be covered in spiders, be pushed out of an airplane, or be shut in a box until you overcame your fear! I am a little spider phobic, and I simply can’t imagine being covered in spiders, I think it would make my fears much worse!
From your pup’s (or my pup’s) perspective being flooded by people (even if they are well meaning people) can be frightening. So it is important to get to know your pup and learn to read his body language and signals and take him places where you can control the people.
Signs of Stress
- Stiffening of the body
- Dilated pupils
- Being able to see the whites of the eyes
- Tail tucking
- Showing teeth
- Avoidance or walking/running away
- Choosing to lay as far away as possible
- Rolling over with the belly exposed
- Barking, Growling or crying
If you see a multitude or mixture of these behaviors get your pup out of the situation, but don’t coddle, hold, or fawn over your pup when he is scared. Simply back up to a more comfortable area so that you can offer calming signs and the ability to reward your pup, never leave on a bad note while petting and cooing to your puppy, this will be misconstrued as praising your pup for his fears.
How To Control People
Don’t go places that you know will be packed if your pup is likely to be nervous. Find places that are not busy. For example I wouldn’t take my pup to Starbucks on a Saturday morning at 8, it is going to be too busy to get good work done and have control over people. But, Starbucks at 3 during the weekday is not as busy.
Utilize people you know. Take your pup to friend’s homes. Take your pup to the vet’s office just for socialization and treats and carry your pup in pet stores to socialize with people. Because puppies are not fully vaccinated and safe, it is unsafe to let them walk on the floors in pet stores until they are fully vaccinated, so I recommend carrying them if you decide to pop in for socialization!
Run your pup by a church outing to visit with people you know who will respect your wishes, for moving slowly and giving treats.
Always have people give your new pup a treat, this will help to break the ice and the pup will learn that people are good and associate them with treats. To encourage my pup to approach people I use a treat down next to his nose to lure him to the person then give them the treat to dispense. As he is eating I take a step or two back so that he is learning to be social and outgoing on his own. If he comes running back to me, I give the person another treat and encourage him to make the steps forward to take it. If he won’t make the steps on his own, I will step out with him.
Do not pick him up, if at all possible! He should learn to be independently social and some dogs will either only be social if picked up, or they become more
protective in the arms of their owners. He needs to learn to stand on his own and deal with people in his own four feet!
Work on your own dog’s schedule; don’t push if your pup is not ready! If he is becoming more and more social you can begin teaching him to sit and wait patiently for petting and YOU can now be the one to give treats for appropriate social behavior!
I will begin this regiment now, and hope for the best! Some dog’s are simply standoffish, and not overly friendly but hopefully with a little time, kindness and work together you and I can teach our dogs that people are a lot of fun! After all, I want a dog that enjoys the company of people and one that I can trust when I go out, and when I have people over to visit!
And finally, I’d highly encourage you to consider picking up a copy of Chet Womach’s Hands Off Dog Training formula, for a complete A-Z training plan to put your puppy on. This stage of your dog’s life is full of development. Its at this young time in their life that you can most easily program their personality, and keep them from ever developing annoying behavior problems. Don’t make the mistake of just thinking your dog will turn out to be well behaved WITHOUT a plan… it doesn’t work like that.
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.