Socialize your puppy: The right way — Dog Trainer perspective
Socialization of puppies is crucial. You only get one chance to get it right; opportunities are fleeting, and puppies only have one chance to be puppies!
Yes, you can always teach an older dog new techniques; however, you can’t delay the socialization of a puppy.
Dealing with stress and disturbances to the environment can impact a dog’s entire life. If you properly “explain” this part of your dog’s daily life when socializing, it will be much easier and more beneficial to both you and the dog.
Stereotypes of puppy socialization
It is believed that having 100 different interactions with dogs, people, environments and situations help with the puppy’s brain development in that fundamental stage. Afterall, during the first 16 weeks of its life, 85 percent of the brain forms the necessary neural connections.
However, there is a stereotype about how to socialize your dog. It is widely believed that dogs should interact with humans and other dogs to avoid becoming aggressive later in life. Is it true? Not necessarily. I have worked with many conventionally socialized dogs, many of whom were the worst aggressors of my career. Whether or not a dog eventually becomes aggressive depends largely on the information it receives and the behavior created by the dog’s life and environment.
Common mistakes during puppies socializing
One of the facts about dog training is that if you and your dog are socialized without training for a particular situation, it will create its own pattern of behavior for that situation, and you may not like it.
1. If you allow a puppy to jump on other people when it meets people during socialization, it will continue to do that as it grows. The longer you wait to deal with the jump, the more time and patience it will take.
2. When socializing a puppy, if you let them run around freely and survey the world on their own, you’ll notice they are slow to react to new things, and will typically stay within a few feet of the people they’re familiar with. As they grow and gain more experience, you’ll notice they become more adaptable to new environments, and the boundary of movement has expanded greatly from a few feet from their owner to several hundred feet.
3. When most people see a puppy, their first reaction is to pet it. This builds excitement in the dog and actually creates patterns of dog-to-human behavior; However, this may not be the same when puppies are fully grown. Although people like to have a cute little ball running to greet them, a 100-pound adult dog is a different story. Dealing with this behaviour later on, rather than when the puppy is still young and eager to learn, can take a long time and can become a nightmare for some dog owners.
4. Introducing puppies to other dogs is another common practice. If your social plan is simply to bring the puppy to a dog park or other social setting where he will be able to play with other dogs, you may soon realize that your dog will go ballistic and all your communication attempts will quickly go downhill when he sees other dogs. The reason for this is that playing with other dogs is so meaningful and fun for them, that you may face the painful reality that it is impossible to get your dog’s attention or react when other dogs are present. When your dog looks at another dog, you allow it to develop a classical conditioned response; enthusiastic excitement. The level of excitement will only continue to grow and potentially completely out of control if not well monitored.
The dog’s social life
It is widely believed that because dogs are social animals, they need social interaction with other dogs to meet their daily needs. This is actually a myth. Dogs have such a special place in the human world because of their ability to bond with other species. Being a group-oriented animal, it has genetic predispositions and patterns that actually helps them bond with other dogs or any other creature better.
If you put a puppy in its early socialization with a flock of sheep, it will bond with them; it will become part of them. It is common for dogs to merge with animals such as horses, goats and even cats. Their relationship to humans is just another example of dogs adapting to their environment.
Why is this so important
It’s important because it helps us build better relationship development programs, pup socialization programs, including our program to introduce the environment to our dogs.
Socialization of puppies includes: How to show your dog to other people, other animals, and the environment
How to introduce people properly
As mentioned earlier, many people think that your dog will not be aggressive if it comes into contact with multiple people and plays with multiple other puppies during its socialization as a puppy. But we now know that may not be the case. Instead, what your dog may learn is that running to anyone it sees on the road (or in line of sight) is both acceptable and well worth it, and this can become a problem. By creating these scenarios, you are actually training your dog to become over-excited.
When people see an adult dog running up to them to say hello, not everyone is happy and will react in a friendly way. One person’s wrong reaction can easily turn an excited dog into a nervous and scared dog who may show aggressive patterns.
How to show it to other dogs
The same situation applies to other dogs. When you socialize with your puppy in this way, what you’re actually allowing to happen is a classical conditioning process that will cause your dog to get very excited when seeing other people or dogs (animals). While we think of the excitement as a good thing, it’s really just an energy level that can spill over in any way.
Commonly, after completing the traditional puppy curriculum, the dog ends up knowing only “puppy language.” This means that he gets very excited when he sees other dogs that he dives into them when greeting them, which can trigger an aggressive response (since this is not part of the meet-up ritual in the dog world). In some cases, just one fight or adverse reaction is enough to change the dog’s behavior, from low excitement to high excitement to aggressive.
When a puppy is socialized and introduced to new people and animals, it’s as if it’s no big deal. Don’t have people bend over, verbally praise the puppy, etc., and if the puppy greets them, tell them to ignore it. Puppies quickly realize that meeting a new friend or animal is nothing special. Remember, we don’t want puppies to be afraid of people, but we also don’t want them to expect to want to play with everyone they meet. This is an exercise for puppy socialization to help us create a desired behavior pattern at the appropriate time.
Provide socialization training steps for puppies
As described in the bonding and engagement section of the website, you can attract puppies with prizes. Use a few people (strangers to the dog) as bait, or ask people around you to help you for a while for training purposes. In fact, most people like to participate in helping with the training process. The training process can be conducted by first having them stand on a ground and ignore the dog, then the handler will try to tempt the puppies with treats (occasionally giving them treats) and move around them (disturbing the crowd).
This will make the puppy feel comfortable around people and it won’t be nervous in front of strangers, but it won’t be overly excited either. After a few repetitions, the puppy will be able to master this step, and you can increase the level of difficulty.
This time, have a helper call the puppy (verbal praise, applause, etc.) and once the pup responds to his call and runs toward him, just as the puppy approaches, the helper stops all movement, and avoids eye contact to become a statue. At this point, do not call the puppy back or give any signals; You should wait for it to turn to you, and then “mark” the moment. This will encourage the puppy to come back to you, and once it comes back to you, give it a high-reward (inflection of praise, happy tone, stroking, etc.) along with a treat.
After a few sessions, the puppies will start to ignore people because they are not fun or special. They start to see themselves as another “object” in the environment.
Once the puppy is responding smoothly, the trainer can now interact with the puppy and stroke him. The goal is to keep the dog from getting too excited. You must be able to control your dog.
Introduce other dogs to puppies
This exercise is more subtle with other dogs, so it is recommended that you get a decoy dog, which has low energy and low responsiveness to other dogs.
Keep the puppy at a distance from you and away from the bait dog. After a few sessions, start approaching the decoy dog and start performing the “in and out” pattern (contact your dog, run towards the decoy dog, stop halfway, then run back to the starting point). After a few more sessions (when you think your dog can overcome the temptation), you can begin real contact. You should allow the dogs to maintain brief contact (for a few seconds), then immediately reconnect with your dog and back off.
From this point on, every few times, you can increase the amount of time the dogs spend with each other. Your goal is to always be able to reconnect with your dog and walk away without any problems.
Essentially, the goal of this socializing pattern is for your puppy exercise is to establish muscle memory patterns, as well as classical conditioning behaviors under which puppies react to these situations (when encountering other people and animals).
Show the environment when socializing with your dog
A very critical step is how the environment will present itself when you socialize with your puppy and how it will react as it grows older. This is one of the main reasons most dogs fail in competitions, professional services, or as pets and everyday companions.
Steps you can do with puppies
For many dog owners, the time between when you first bring your puppy home and when it grows into an adult dog, passes by too quickly. The puppy period, teething period, and window to socialize with your pup are all in the past, and this is when most dog owners begin to confront their first behavioral problems and ask themselves what went wrong.
So the question is;
Where do you start and what do you do when you bring a puppy home?
If you go online or ask around, the first thing you’re likely to see is “Puppy Social Classes.” Unfortunately, like “Obedience Courses” or “Obedience Schools,” the name “Obedience Courses” is largely misunderstood and misused for marketing purposes. A weekly lesson may be good for your puppy at first, but then he will meet familiar people and familiar dogs in a familiar environment (unfortunately, in most cases, this is where they start to learn to get too excited). If this is your only puppy social plan, then you will end up wasting your money and, more importantly, your time. Some of these lessons, if handled properly, can be very useful to help socialize the puppy, but certainly should not be the whole plan.
You can incorporate physical objects and information into your puppy’s socialization plan and timeline.
To keep the puppy’s on the right path, there are a lot of social plans that try to explain what to do and what steps to take at certain dates or weeks in the puppy’s life. In fact, it’s not easy. Every dog is unique and you can’t make a “weekly plan that works for everyone”, but there are some rules that apply to all dogs:
• Introduce as many different environments and situations, animals, people, etc as possible. It’s never enough (remember, everything has to be presented in the way you want your puppy to react, as well as creating a positive outcome)
• Introductions must be conducted in a friendly manner and it is important to observe and track the puppy’s reaction. It is best to not rush or push your puppy if they are not comfortable. If the outcome of an experience is positive, this is how your puppy will handle it in the future, and if it’s negative, you’ll bring yourself more difficulties and problems later down the line.
• Build a relationship. This is the most stressful time for any dog because he has just left his “home” and only had a short time to adapt to a new environment and new owner. These type of intense process of exploration and learning is overwhelming for any dogs. This is why building a relationship together will help the puppy get through this time along with all the things that may also come later in his life.
While your goal is to expose your puppy to as many different scenarios, people, animals, etc., as possible, be sure to remember to be very cautious. The key is to get the scenes and experiences organized in a way that will benefit the puppy.
Some ideas and steps for socialization of puppies
There are no hard and fast guidelines, but a few possible scenarios that can be considered and further expanded on. Always think ahead about the possible outcomes and what options you can make on the spot if the puppy is overwhelmed by a given task.
• Explore your neighborhood. Objects such as people, cars, parks, trash cans, isolated bushes in the middle of a field, traffic signs, benches, etc. Remember, although all of these things may be familiar to us, they are all very new to the puppy.
• Take the puppy for a ride to the park where he can observe his surroundings. Take them to different places like the beach with sand surface, rock surface, boardwalk, tall grass, etc.
• Introduce the school with the playground and children to the puppy to become more familiar with different environments
• Introduce people of all ages, both male and female, including people in wheelchairs, cyclists, skateboarders, and etc.
• Take care of your puppy (and others) by making them feel comfortable, such as brushing, turning around, checking their ears, eyes, nails and teeth, bathing, etc. Taking your puppy to a local vet to introduce the vet clinic and their staffs in a friendly way will save you headaches later as well!
• Let the puppy explore different sounds, but you would want to be cautious that loud noises are often overwhelming for dogs, so it is best to start at a distance, or not too loud, until your dog feels more comfortable.
• Expose the dog to strange objects indoors and outdoors. Make sure all “exercises” end on a positive note; Objects should be different in shape, material, size, etc. If possible, incorporate them into the game (e.g. create obstacles). You can use anything creative, from regular toys to yoga balls, twigs, raincoats, and etc.
Again, we do want to be cautious and careful when introducing puppies to different environments to ensure that the experience is a positive learning expeirence. If the puppy is uncomfortable in a situation, try increasing the distance or lowering the cause of the pressure to make the puppy familiar and comfortable. The key to successful socialization is to create positive experiences that help puppies learn how to react.
Don’t wait and don’t waste time. You have only days, not months, to do most of your social activities with your puppy because they grow very quickly! Coppinger’s study in 2001, demonstrated that the most important parts of puppy development, as well as the development and connections of nerve cells in a dog’s brain, are mostly formed between 3 weeks and 4 months of age, This is why socialization for puppies at an early state is important!
J. P Scott and J. Fuller’s research demonstrates just how badly this effect can affect dogs’ lives if they don’t have enough social skills.
They did a study with a litter of beagle puppies, which they separated from human interference for the first 12 weeks, and then gave the puppies to families with extensive experience in dog behavior and training.
For the rest of their lives, these dogs were unable to have normal human contact. The dogs were so scared that they couldn’t participate in anything. This highlights the adverse consequences of a lack of proper socialization during puppy development.
On the other hand, there was an experiment for dogs with a good early socialization plan but then got into a bad situation in which they were badly abused for months before being abandoned to near death.
Fortunately, the dog was rescued and after a short period of time he made a full recovery, including his trust in humans. One of the reasons this dog has been so successful in her recovery is that she had a very well socialization plan as a puppy.
All in all, with many different ideas, the key to successfully socializing your puppy is to develop a socialization plan that considers many different areas including environment, people, and timing. This way, when your puppy grows up, they will be well trained and well trusted to humans so you will develop a connection with your puppy. That’s because we truly believe that pets are for loving!