Socialization is another important part of your puppy’s training. From the age of four weeks to 12 weeks, your dog’s socialization is taken care of as he grows within his litter. Though puppies are small and seemingly just playing, this play is very important. It is the first stage of socialization. Once you take charge of your puppy, it’s your job to continue that socialization. There are many elements of a proper socialization schedule for your dog. Here are the main ones:
· Teach your puppy that it is alright to be alone. This is especially important for a puppy that will be alone while you’re on the go. You will likely have him in a crate, so he’ll be alone. It is normal to have some crying and whining the first few days a puppy spends alone in a crate. You want to make your puppy as comfortable as possible, though. Never bring your puppy home and put him in a locked crate right away. Rather, ease him into it. You can put a treat at the back of the crate and put your puppy at the door. Let him explore the crate until he finds the treat. You don’t have to lock the door; your goal at the first step is to get your pet used to the crate as a good, secure place. When your pet is fine with the crate, you can start to feed your pet in the crate. This will let him know that the crate is not only secure, but is a great place where he finds yummy food! You can try to close the crate door during feedings. This is a great way to let your pup know that it’s fine to close the door. Make yourself scarce for a few minutes, then return. This lets your pup know right away that you will leave sometimes when he is in the crate but that you will come back. What you want to do is make the crate “normal.” Make it something he will go in and get out of—no biggie at all! Your dog will “get it” if you’re consistent and do it frequently in training. For busy dog owners, it is important to get your dog used to the crate as soon as possible.
Some people wonder about leaving their dogs in the house and not crated. This will be up to you and your dog. Some dogs are fine at home. They sit on the couch, nap, have a snack and a drink and then play alone. Other dogs aren’t. Which kind of dog you get depends on his temperament and training. You can test your dog when he is older—old enough to be beyond the chewing stage, of course. Make a quick trip to the mailbox and back—two to three minutes. Come back and see what your pet is doing. If your pet is successfully alone, try extending the times you are away. If everything is fine when you return, your pet may be ready to be home alone uncrated.
Always do things to ease your pet’s transition into being alone. A nice snuggly blanket, a treat or a pillow can all make being alone much more manageable.
· Biting. Biting is another reality of having a puppy. Your puppy explores, and that means he uses his mouth (and teeth) constantly. First, discuss with your veterinarian the best chew toys for your puppy based on his age, size and breed. Second, when you are playing with your dog, be sure to use the “no” command firmly when he bites. Never hit your puppy or hold him down. This only encourages him to defend himself, and this includes nipping even more. Third, learn to gauge the biting. If a bite is just a nip, a good, firm “no” should suffice. If, on the other hand, your puppy is amped up with a lot of energy and biting, it is time to end the game. You are not likely to get a successful effort at discipline when your pup has a lot of energy fueling him. Let him work off the energy with a nice walk to stop the behavior and calm him down.
· Other dogs. You definitely want to have a schedule for your dog to play with other dogs. It is critical at this time to give your dog as many experiences as possible. This is what teaches him how to act and react to a variety of situations without fear. Fear opens the door to unneeded and unwarranted aggression and anxiety. Your puppy is testing his boundaries while young and you want him to do so in a safe but educational environment. It is important that you let him play with other dogs—both puppies and older dogs. A dog park is a great resource and most cities have a location allocated in their park system that is dedicated to pets. They also usually offer training and a structured socialization schedule.
· Other people. It is always important to socialize your dog with other people. When you take your dog with you as you go about your day, you’ll have numerous opportunities to introduce him to new people. Likely, people will approach and ask if they can pet your dog, especially if you have a puppy. Always ask people to be respectful. It is also perfectly acceptable to tell someone that your dog is training now and you need him to pay attention. This is particularly true if you find young children whom you know will rile up your puppy. Another good idea is to go to nursing homes. Most welcome a pet so that residents can interact with him. Of course, gauge your puppy’s abilities and attention span, but this can be an excellent way to help your puppy develop social skills.
· Other settings. As you go through training, you’ll want to introduce your puppy to a wide range of settings. Of course, your home is the first place he will know, and then your yard. Beyond that, though, the sky is the limit. This is why training is so important. You want your puppy to not be fearful of new situations and to know how to behave in them. The only solution is to take your dog with you to the outdoor café down the street, to take your dog to the park with humans when it is busy, to take your dog to the dog park, to take your dog to the lake, on a boat, in the car, etc. You want to give your pup the best possible chance at becoming a confident and stable dog. You also want your pup to grow into your best friend, and if you’re there during the times of his growth, he’ll bond with you.
· Aggression. Signs of aggression during socialization are important to notice. They can escalate quickly. Let’s say your dog shows signs of aggression, including growling, but he growls at the wrong adult dog. That dog is aggressive and attacks. This can shape your dog for years to come and create a fearful dog. You want to note any signs that your puppy is being more than rambunctious in play. If you see signs of aggression, immediately remove your dog from the area. Sometimes a good walk can ease his fears and tension. Sometimes you’ll have to call your outing done at this point and try again another time. The key is to know what your pet is saying and how he is feeling, then quickly respond accordingly. You also want to follow up with a professional and discuss your concerns with your veterinarian. It may be an isolated incident when your dog was just overly anxious or it could be a problem that you must address.
· Food bowl understanding. In terms of socialization, you want your dog to know that people will approach his food bowl and that this is perfectly acceptable. It is important to work with your dog while he is eating. After you feed your dog, walk up to the bowl. Pick up the bowl, walk away, give it back. Repeat this a few times a day and have other family members do it, too. You want to communicate to your dog that it is okay for people to take away his food because it is only temporary and they will give it back. If you have children, be sure that they complete this socialization exercise also.
· Handling. Your dog will need to get used to handling. First, this is because people will likely reach out to your dog in public. Your dog cannot snap, growl, flinch or be aggressive with interactions. To socialize your pet, ask your friends and family to take turns petting and holding the puppy. Let him get used to different people. Tutor your family and friends on how to hold the puppy so that he feels secure and safe. Second, it is important for your puppy to get used to handling for medical reasons. Your puppy will be meeting his veterinarian soon, if he hasn’t already. You will also have to brush your pet’s teeth, do general assessments if he is having a problem, touch him, wash him, etc. You want your puppy to be fine with touches and with your reaching into his mouth. The easiest way to do this is to simply do it often and consistently.
· Sounds. Socialization also includes getting your puppy used to different sounds. When your dog first comes to your home, he will be exposed to a lot of sounds. The television, the phone, the coffee grinder, the doorbell, the cars outside, the airplanes flying overhead, etc.—all can be intimidating the first few times your dog encounters them. You never want your puppy to experience fear in your home, especially as a young dog. Slowly introduce your pet to the house and the various noises he’ll encounter throughout his life in your home.
Each of these is an important part of socialization. Remember that everything is new to your dog, whether you have a puppy or an adult. He needs the proper experiences and influences to get used to the different stimuli that will be around for his entire life.