Keep puppies up-to-date with their puppy vaccinations. Ask your Veterinarian if your puppy is healthy enough to mingle with other dogs. Read about puppy vaccinations.
First 14 weeks of life is important socialization time for puppies
Gently expose puppies to the world. Gentle socialization means exposing the animal to novel stimuli (new dogs, people, animals, sounds, textures, environments, places, etc) in a way that does not cause fear or concern. The exposure should instead be an enjoyable, positive experience. Many dog owners force their dogs into interactions, when their dog is showing signs of concern or fear. The forced interaction only serves to convince the dog that the particular stimuli, situation or person is terrifying and to be avoided in the future.
Puppies may have startle reactions, or display fearful body postures to: unexpected sounds, sudden movements, and uncomfortable encounters. An intense or bad experience, especially for a puppy, can have lifelong implications. Even older dogs may acquire negative reactions or behaviors from forced encounters.
Enrolling in a good puppy class is an excellent means of strengthening the human-animal bond. It’s a great opportunity to socialize puppies in an environment where risk of illness or injury can be minimized.
What is the best age to enroll my new puppy in a class?
The earlier the better! The socialization window begins to close at around 16 weeks of age. The absolute best time to get the pup into class is between 8-12 weeks of age but training is always a good idea no matter what the age.
If you can’t find a good puppy class at the very least, sit with them for 5 to 10 minutes every few days, outside pet friendly places. Fit your pup with a body harness clipped to a short lead (no more than two feet. Allow your pup to experience people socialization, (greeted, petted gently, given bits of food you provide). Proper socialization means positive interactions are created to help a dog grow, play and learn.
Puppy Socialization Myth. ‘Puppies should not go to puppy classes until they’ve had all their vaccinations, or they will get sick.’
Response. A clean indoor area, (easier to sanitize) that is well run, and the puppy class is restricted to puppies of similar age and vaccination status is unlikely to lead to disease outbreaks.
In spite of the growing body of data supporting the benefits of proper socialization. Some veterinarians fail to educate themselves about the newest research and continue to be skeptical about the safety of puppy classes and the critical importance these classes have on a puppies long-term health.
Dogs are best able to form new relationships with those of their own and other species and to adapt to stimuli in their environment (habituation) during their socialization period, commonly considered to be between 4 and 14 weeks of age. During this period, puppies may demonstrating startle reactions to sound and sudden movements as well as fearful body postures. Unsocialized puppies do not learn to discriminate between things that are truly dangerous and those that are not. Such puppies are likely to become increasingly fearful of novel object, people, and environments. Proper socialization during this period is critical if any owner desires a dog that is tolerant of other people and animals and is unafraid of new environments and situations.
Proper socialization means exposing the animal to novel stimulus in a way that does not cause fear and should be an enjoyable, positive experience. Many dog owners force their dogs into interactions, when their dog is showing signs of concern or fear. The forced interaction only serves to convince the dog that the particular situation or person is terrifying and to be avoided in the future.
ALERT! Any location that gets frequent dog traffic (neighborhood streets, dog parks, play areas, places that allow dogs), may carry a concentrations of virus’s, bacteria and parasites that a young pup body may not be able to defend against.
Well run puppy classes are the easiest way to expose a dog to novel people, dogs and situations. In a good puppy class, puppies are exposed to children, men in uniforms and hats, wheelchairs, umbrellas, and other stimuli that are likely to frighten older dogs that did not have those experiences. Be aware that some dog trainers label a class a puppy class when in fact it is primarily aimed at teaching basic obedience.
Numerous excellent resources provide instructions for giving puppy classes. Early Learning for Puppies 8-16 Weeks of Age to Promote Socialization and Good Behavior by Julie Jackson, is a particularly user-friendly guide. But most of the behavior textbooks also contain good chapters on teaching puppy classes. As long as a qualified person watches the classes and confirms that they are well-run, give correct advice, and cover the most appropriate subjects.
Finally, socialization biscuits are an important socialization tool. Carry special (puppy appropriate) treats everywhere and allow strangers to offer these treats to the puppy. The puppies will learn to expect good things will happen every time they meet a new person.