By Marilyn Marks
Everyone is encouraged to “get their puppy out and socialize it” by their veterinarians, friends, and books. Let’s take a look at what that actually means, the best way to get it done, and the potential pitfalls that you should watch out for.
There comes a time in the life of every mammal when it is more playful, when it is more curious, and when it enjoys “newness.” Everyone eventually moves on to a more discriminating and guarded adulthood after passing through this stage. When we are young, it is beneficial to our education to be allowed the freedom to explore while also being supervised by an adult. Being curious about everything that’s new when you’re an adult would be a waste of time and could even put your safety at risk; instead, you should focus on practicing caution.
Between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks, a puppy is considered to be in the “stage” of socialization. During this period, your puppy is physiologically prepared to take in new experiences and figure out how to respond to them. After 16 weeks, their physiology will have undergone yet another change, and the “window of opportunity” to deal with “newness” will have closed.
Around the age of 8 weeks, when they are transitioning into this new stage, the vast majority of puppies are adopted out to new homes. The nature of your puppy is already apparent, but now you have the opportunity to help your puppy develop into a dog that is well-adjusted and able to adapt to new situations.
You will find that your adult dog is more attentive to you than to the “newness” of each experience if you use this developmental stage to nurture your dog. This is because your dog has learned to associate you with positive reinforcement. As a direct consequence of this, your dog will:
• have a response that is both controllable and “normal” to things like delivery people, babies, house guests, and other similar occurrences.
• be less hyperactive and distractible while walking or while at the veterinarian’s office • be more tolerant of unfamiliar people and noises
• be simpler to bring along on trips or errands
It is essential to approach the process of socialization with a clear goal in mind, and the outcomes of each interaction should be positive rather than merely neutral for it to be considered successful.
Variety is the name of the game when it comes to purposeful socialization. Your dog needs to interact with new people every day so that he can build up his socialization skills. It means not walking in the same route over and over again but rather venturing out to explore new areas when going for walks. It requires getting to know the children of a large number of families, not just your own or those of the neighbors. In order to avoid hyperactive greetings, it is necessary to repeatedly practice activities that will be required of the dog on a regular basis throughout its lifetime. These activities include going to the veterinarian more frequently (instead of just once a year), taking your dog in the car and out into the world more frequently (instead of just once in a while), and physical handling and restraint, such as brushing, handling toenails, cleaning ears, giving pills, etc. (perform these activities gently, gradually, and “When we talk about positive exposure, we mean that the dog must emerge from the experience thinking, “I can do that!” That’s something I enjoy doing! You can think of it as a “outward bound” course for your dog, in which he or she will gain the self-assurance that comes from feeling successful in handling a potentially scary situation (one that he or she perceives as scary, even if that is just a man with a beard, the sound of a baby screaming, etc.). Your dog will acquire an overall sense of ability to handle things, also known as confidence, as a result of this. Puppies of all breeds may exhibit wariness toward many different things or only a few things. A speedy recovery and a strong “bounce-back” after a scare are the outcomes that we are hoping for here.
If you discover that your puppy is timid, you should not assume that this is something that will go away as the puppy gets older; rather, you should seek assistance to transform these situations into positive experiences. Listed below are some ideas to consider:
• Do not force the dog into (literally or emotionally) situations he is afraid of; rather, arrange for more time with those experiences so he can adjust as needed.
• Your dog will take his cues from you, so act jolly and happy rather than consoling or supporting him.
• create distance from the scary thing, back up to a point where the dog is not showing fear, and gradually move back towards it.
• pair food with the scary event or thing; if the pup won’t take food, he is too close (too scared); by equating food (which is “good”) with the scary event (which is “bad”), he should learn to feel good about the bad.
Last but not least, do not isolate yourself after the first four months. Even though they may no longer be in the “sponge” stage, it is essential that they continue to be exposed to a wide range of novel and interesting experiences.
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