Socializing Your Puppy
When you made the decision to adopt a puppy versus a full-grown dog, you probably did so in part because you knew what you'd get. "Yes, there will be peeing and chewing," you thought to yourself as you looked over the litter of downy pups. "But at least I won't have to contend with the shadowy history as to why the shelter staff nicknamed my pet 'Tiger.'" This gave you great comfort. Until, however, you got home and realized that a clean slate is, well, a clean slate. Not only will you be responsible for housebreaking your pet, but you'll have to socialize him, too. You'll want to make sure he's not only obedient, but friendly to all kinds of people - and animals. It is a lofty goal but you can get there with hard work and patience (on both your part and that of your pup). We've got a few suggestions to help get you started.
Stages of Puppy Development
Before you can develop a strategy to socialize your pet, it is important to know something about how puppies are wired.
- Seven to eight weeks: Many breeders typically wean and release pups to their new homes at this age. This is an ideal time to adopt, as puppies are becoming more independent and are exploring their environment.
- Eight to ten weeks: Your little guy will likely go through a "fear" period. He'll stick close to you and will frighten easily. Try to limit noise and keep new experiences non-threatening. (Trust us on this and plan your five-year-old son's birthday party to a nearby park. Do not take your puppy.)
- Ten weeks of age: Puppies enter a "juvenile" stage in which he will be more inquisitive and ready to explore. This phase lasts until adulthood. It is a terrific time to introduce new experiences and work on socializing your pet. (Please note that some puppies go through a second "fear" period around four or five months.)
Meeting New Kinds of People
The world is full of different types of individuals, so it is essential that your pet can relate to others. Always reward your animal with treats when he demonstrates desired behavior.
- Begin by introducing your puppy to quiet friends on his own home turf for short periods of time. Invite one or two neighbors over for a drink on the patio and to scratch your puppy's ears. When greeting your little one, have guests crouch down low and allow him to approach them on his own time. This will give your pup a greater sense of control.
- Once your pet masters "home" visits, try taking him to the park or dog run. Let him decide who to meet and for how long. You never want to force your pet into a situation where he is fearful. (Of course, make sure the person he approaches wants to be greeted. Some people are afraid of dogs — even puppies.)
- It is also important to introduce your puppy to people of different races, ethnic backgrounds, ages and professions as some dogs might develop an aversion to people who don't look like you and thus seem "unusual" to them. (The postman will thank you later.)
- Once he begins to enjoy new adults, introduce him to older children for short amounts of time. Supervise the visit, of course, as kids can play roughly and may scare your pup. If you don't know any children personally, take the pup to a park and he'll likely draw them in on his own. (Please note: Even if you don't have kids in your family, it is imperative to socialize puppies with them. If dogs don't interact with children early in life, they often develop aggressive behavior towards them later. Small children who race around and make high-pitched squealing noises can trigger prey instincts in dogs who are not used to them.)
Getting Along With Other Dogs
Even puppies who consider themselves to be nearly human will have to learn to get along in the canine community. At the very minimum, you'll come across another dog (or his scent) during your daily walks. Thus, he needs to practice doggiespeak.
- Head to the park to find poochy playmates. Allow cordial sniffing and some play, but back off if your puppy seems intimidated or if the other parties have poor manners.
- Consider hosting doggie play dates. Invite friends to bring their dogs to your garden or backyard for a game of frisbee.
- Please note that dog-to-dog socialization is hugely important for breeds that are dominant or aggressive.
Getting Along With Other Pets
Your new puppy and your Siamese cat might never be best friends (Remember the Disney story "Lady and the Tramp?") but you can at least encourage them to tolerate one another.
- Begin by keeping the newcomer in a kennel and allowing the resident pet to "visit" him through the safety of the bars. Gradually extend the length of visits before allowing the two to meet face-to-face. Supervise these meetings until you feel confidant all will go well.
- Please note that no matter how well-behaved and well-socialized your puppy is, he will likely still try to chase animals he considers prey. It would be dually unpleasant for both your bunny and your three-year-old to witness a National Geographic hunting scenario, so we suggest keeping Fluffy safely locked in her cage and out of your pup's reach.
Coping With New Experiences
The vacuum cleaner can be a terrifying thing for a young puppy. All is quiet, then suddenly, this towering devil growls to life and begins sucking up dog hair from the couch. To avoid frightening him (and having to clean up pee), introduce your pup gradually to new experiences.
- Let him check out the quieted vacuum/car/baby toy/hair clippers by himself. Then, place him a safe distance away before turning it on for a moment or two. After turning it off, stand by the object and call your pup to you. Reward him. Repeat this lesson, extending the amount of time the sound is running. Finally, call him to you while the noise is actually going. He'll eventually see that the television/fan/washing machine is no big deal.
Neil, David H., and Clarice Rutherford. How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With. Alpine Publications, Loveland, Colorado, 1981.
The Monks of New Skete. The Art of Raising a Puppy. Little, Brown and Company, 1991.
Raising a puppy and socializing it is a tremendous labor of love. When done correctly, your pup will aspire to someday holiday or vacation with a team of rugby players.