PUPPY SOCIALIZATION IS CRUCIAL
It is not only puppies that need to be socialized but humans need the same social interaction with other people. This interaction helps to develop a mature individual with appropriate self esteem. Puppy socialization revolves around two types of interactions; socializing with other people and socializing with other animals. Puppy socialization is important in neonatal animals. If animals do not receive this interaction, behavioral problems (including fear bitingThis is a term of aggression that often develops out of poor interactions with people or other animals. Call it social isolation if you may. Dogs become anxious in social situations and that anxiety turns to fear which is exhibited by attempting to bite the individual or animal that approaches it. The classical case is the animal that is wagging its tail and bites at the same time. Behavior modification and pharmaceuticals may help the pet get over the hump.) will occur in the future.
Initial puppy socialization begins when the puppies are close to being weaned from the mother. Most of early life is spent getting nutrition from the mother but now that often takes a back seat to interacting with and playing with its litter mates. Dog are gregarious and like being with other dogs and people. They are not solitary with an independent streak like a lot of furry felines are! Playing is a big part of puppy socialization. One outgoing puppy may want to play with a quieter pup that doesn’t! So it is sort of like the typical give and take in life trying to figure out the other individual. This is a tremendous learning experience for the young animal. This puppy socialization period extends from the near weaning age of 6 weeks till when siblings are either sold or given away.
SOCIALIZING WITH PEOPLE
When you take on the responsibility of owning a new puppy it is very important that the puppy gets to know all sorts of people. Naturally, the puppy needs time to assimilate who its family is; meaning mom, dad and children in the household. Once the puppy understands that, what comes next is defense of its territory. That is a canine (and human) instinct. This is the time that the pup needs to get used to having a child’s friends over to the house to watch TV or play out in the yard. Observe what happens when a friend rings the door bell. Watch what the dog does. Is it threatened or scared? That behavior is demonstrated by hair rising on its back, tail down and withdrawn and that “look” of anxiety on its face.
For some reason, a lot of dogs are scared or feel intimidated by people that wear uniforms. This includes: FEDEX® or UPS® drivers, mailman, police officer and so on. Have your puppy get used to seeing the delivery person and let the two interact, if possible. In puppy socialization this means sniffing the person. For the other it is talking to the animal in a calm, soothing voice with opened palmsThis is not just important for a small puppy but when you encounter any unknown dog, stand still and open your palms to the dog for him or her to sniff you. This stance is less threatening to any dog. A closed palm or initially trying to pet the animals head is often seen as a threatening move, so stick with open palms. for the dog to smell.
SOCIALIZING WITH OTHER ANIMALS IN THE HOME
What if there are several adult cats in the household and than the new boy on the block checks in? The cats will not be happy. They will be usually found hiding under the bed rather than wanting to get to know the new “intruder”. Cats are solitary not pack animals like dogs. A puppy will naturally want to play with the cats but will initially be met with resistance. You have to understand the cat; it is an ultra supreme creature of habit. Try changing the furniture around in a room. Try moving a cat’s litter box or worse (horrors) try changing the brand of litter. So if this freaks out cats imagine what a new dog is like running around!
What often works is confining the cats in a spare bathroom with bedding, food and a litter box. Sooner or later the puppy and cats will be playing “footsy” under the door. You than eventually release the cats and see what happens. Over time they accept or tolerate one another. You may even shake your head when you find the puppy and cats snoozing together! This is what puppy socialization is all about–getting along!
If there are other dogs in the home it usually presents no difficulty. Dogs live by their sense of smell so in short order almost all dogs in the house will bond together. Having a young dog with an older dog is very advantageous. A lot of older animals want to stay still and sleep as they age. A puppy wants to play. This forces the older dog to MOVE and slows down the arthritic component within the hip joint.
SOCIALIZING WITH OTHER ANIMALS OUTSIDE OF THE HOME
Socializing dogs that are “strangers” to the puppy can be difficult but if attempted at an early age, it will be easy to overcome. If there are pets in the neighborhood take your puppy for a walk on a leash so he or she can smell other pets in the area. What you are doing is widening the puppy’s little world bit by bit. There may be some dogs that he likes and others he does not. If he is scared pick him up. Try to engage the animals in play. Repeat this over and over and you will succeed.
Above all…do not take your puppy to a dog park for this. No and more no’s. You personally do not know if the dogs at the park are parasite free. You do not know the vaccination record of each dog there. There may be dogs incubating parvovirus or kennel cough. So stay away from these areas.
No matter what you do in regards to puppy socialization, there are some dogs that are just dog aggressive. This means they are fine with people and pets in their home but aggressive towards any other animal. These dogs need behavioral training and/or drug intervention by veterinarians specializing in behavioral disorders.
PUTTING IT ALL IN PERSPECTIVE
One common theme that I repeat is that all animals are individuals and no two animals are alike. There can be many variations on the puppy socialization concepts presented above. There are patterns that I see repeated over and over. If you own a large breed dog like a German Shepherd, Presa Canario, Rottweiler and the like it is imperative that those breeds become accustomed to other dogs when they are young. If they can accept other animals it will make your life easier in the future. We all live in an imperfect world and accidents like lacerations and the like happen when dogs get together no matter how good the intentions of socializing are. That is what veterinarians are there for!