Dog’s Eye View: Socialization: Everybody knows about that, Part 2
We left off in Part 1 with a general overview of experiences that puppies have during the first 12 weeks of life. Within this period of time, there are important sub-plots.
The mother may begin to wean her puppies between 4 and 8 weeks but this does not mean that she should not be present to influence their behavior. Many puppies go to their new homes at around 8 to 12 weeks of age. The period of socializing with humans starts during this time and continues critically for several more weeks. This is also when puppies learn from and remember bad experiences. Anything that frightens the puppy during this time can have a more lasting effect.
Our approach to helping out our new little charge needs to be well thought out and most of all gentle and positively reinforcing. We are stretching our puppy’s experiences with any new environment. Remember that “environment” can be anything from a bush along the sidewalk to a new person walking through your front door or a big truck rumbling down the street.
Sometimes our ego gets in the way when we are proudly displaying our gorgeous puppy to new people. I am reminded of a scene in the movie, “Patton,” where General Patton’s Bull Terrier is frightened by a little fluffy dog. In the movie, General Patton is embarrassed by what he perceives as his dog’s “cowardly” behavior. Of course, it might not have occurred to him that “Willie” could be startled by a brash furry dog. It was amusing to watch but to me makes a point of letting ego get in the way of understanding.
“Sink or swim” is a concept that has no place in socializing a puppy. Let’s not force our puppy to “get over” his fear. If he’s suddenly confronted with a scary object and tries to get away, let him retreat as far as he needs to. Let him hide behind you if he wants to.
Now you can begin to reintroduce him to the scary object by letting him watch from a distance then gradually get closer. Encourage him and jolly him up with a light-hearted attitude while staying close to him. Remember that this is on his terms, not yours. If we “abandon” him or punish him at a time when he’s really scared, we could leave him fearful in similar encounters in the future.
Trips to new locations such as your veterinary clinic or a grooming shop are a good idea. However, perhaps just go for a fun hello and treat given by the staff, then leave.
Try not to overwhelm your puppy during this time by putting him in a situation that you cannot personally oversee. I wouldn’t even leave him with friends who have other dogs. It may seem like a good idea but in the long run, you have everything to gain by closely monitoring his every experience at this time in his life. Don’t leave his future to chance.
Next time: More aspects of socialization.
Sandra Kruczek is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer at Total Teamwork Training and has more than 25 years of experience. She can be reached at http://www.totalteamworktraining.com.
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