What is Socialization?
Socialization is creating purposeful, positive experiences for your puppy, to prepare him for life in the human world. For the first few months of his live, a puppy will go through a developmental phase known as the critical socialization window. During this period, puppies learn about the word around them, and are usually curious and resilient. This is the time brain development happens very rapidly and all experiences (negative and positive) will be remembered.
What happens to your puppy during this most important stage of development will have a direct and long lasting impact on their behavioral wellness as an adult dog. Under-socialized puppies will almost always develop some kind of behavioral problem, like poor impulse control, resource guarding, anxiety and many more.
The Most Important Part Of Training A New Puppy
When is the Critical Socialization Window?
Depending on the individual puppy, the critical socialization window closes somewhere between 12 and 16 weeks of age. Because there is such a limited window of opportunity for socialization, it should always take priority over obedience training at this young age.
You should start socializing your puppy as soon as you bring them home, when they’re usually around 8 weeks old.
Socialization is Not the Same Thing As Exposure
Socialization does not just mean exposing your puppy to lots of things; you must ensure they are having a positive experiences.
For example, taking your puppy to school where there are lots of children is not a safe way to socialize your puppy to children. You’re likely to end up with a crowd of admiring kids, all wanting to pat or hold your puppy at once. For many young dogs this is an overwhelming, frightening experience.
It would be much safer to set yourself up a small distance down the street from the school, so that your puppy can meet the children in small groups as they walk past. Be sure to bring treats and toys with you to help ensure that your puppy has a good time.
Let Your Puppy Go At Their Own Pace
Forcing your puppy into situations before they are ready will negatively impact their experiences. Let your puppy explore the world at their own pace; you can encourage them and reward them, but don’t force or rush them.
In particular, avoid dragging your puppy up to things by their leash, carrying them and putting them down in the new situation, or even luring them in with food.
For example, to socialize your puppy to swimming, you should not pick him up and place him in the water, or try to get them to jump in for a treat. Instead, find a place where there is a gradual incline, like a riverbank or ramp, and let him explore in his own time. Play fun games around the water and don’t stress if he don’t want to go in all the way at first. Wading pools are another good way to ease your puppy into swimming, and also a good way to help him to cool off in the summer.
If In Doubt, Add Some Space
Your puppy doesn’t have to be right in the middle of something to have a positive socialization experience. If you’re ever worried that a situation may be too much for your puppy, move further away and give him a chance to acclimatize.
A good example of this is socializing puppies to traffic. For many dogs, standing right next to a busy road with all the large, noisy cars can be very frightening. Avoid busy roads at first, starting somewhere like a park where you can walk along away from the road. As your puppy’s confidence improves, you can try coming closer and closer.
How Much Socializing?
Your puppy needs to have as many high quality socialization experiences as you can fit in before their critical socialization window ends.
Let’s say you took your puppy to the vet once for a socialization visit – no needles, and lots of fun, and once for their vaccinations and to check a sore leg. That puppy might think that there is a 50% chance that going to the vet is unpleasant.
If you took that same puppy on plenty of fun vet visits, they’re much more likely to think of the vet as a good place.
What Should I Socialize To?
There are six main categories of things that you should socialize your puppy to:
Depending on their personality and breed, your puppy should be socialized to anywhere between 50 and 150 dogs before they reach 16 weeks of age. Shy puppies or over-confident puppies need higher numbers, whilst easy going dogs can get away with less.
Not every encounter should be a nose to nose greeting. 50% or more of the dogs you socialize to should be seen at a distance. If you allow your puppy to greet every dog they see, they will expect to be able to do so in the future, and will struggle to pay attention to you.
The dogs that your puppy does meet nose to nose should be fully vaccinated and dog friendly. Introductions should be done off leash so that the dogs’ body language isn’t hindered by a leash.
Try to socialize to the biggest variety of dogs you can find; different ages, sizes, play styles, colors and breeds.
Other animals, like cats or livestock, should also be a part of your socialization checklist, especially if you would like your puppy to have close contact with them later in their life.
As with other animals, you should socialize your puppy to a wide variety of people. Try to introduce your puppy to people of different ages, ethnicities and sizes. In particular, dogs often have trouble with anything that changes a person’s silhouette. Common examples include facial hair, sunglasses, bulky clothes, hats and helmets, walking aids, or people carrying bulky items.
The way people move can also upset dogs if they haven’t been socialized. Things humans use in day to day life should also need to be on your list for example walking sticks, crutches, wheelchairs, skateboards, bicycles and prams, bicycles etc.
Throughout their lives dogs are expected to put up with a lot of handling from humans. It’s very important that they learn to love being touched and restrained by humans, for their safety and happiness, as well as for the safety of the humans handling them.
Your puppy should be socialized to grooming activities like, brushing, clipping, nail trimming and baths, and veterinary activities like checking ears, eyes and teeth. Go very slowly so your puppy isn’t overwhelmed. Practicing your sit restraints will also help to socialize your puppy to being held still.
Remember that puppies have far more sensitive hearing than we do. Socialize them to a variety of noises, ensuring they make positive associations by paring with fun things like food or play.
Thunder, construction noises, traffic noises, music, lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners and sirens should all be included in your puppy’s socialization.
Locations & Experiences
This category covers taking your puppy out and about to experience the world. Common examples are sporting events, picnics, cafes, camping trips, the beach, markets, the vet and groomer, social gatherings and any place you might visit that you’d like your dog to cope well with.
Your puppy needs to gain the confidence to walk on a variety of surfaces; often new puppies are carried a lot and miss out on socializing to the feel of different things under their paws. This includes different textures like grass, wet grass, sand, pebbles and metal grates, and also balancing on surfaces that aren’t flat or surfaces that might shift under their paws.
But What About Contagious Diseases?
As the research into puppies’ critical socialization window is only relatively recent in the history of veterinary science, many vets and breeders are still advising new puppy parents to lock their puppies away until they have finished their vaccinations.
Unfortunately, by the time a puppy is completely vaccinated, their critical socialization window has usually closed. While it is important to be careful in regards to contagious diseases like Parvovirus, avoiding socialization during this period is actually a bigger risk.
Raising a puppy can be the best experience you can possibly have, or a bit of a nightmare. Most puppies are like little energizer bunnies, and they need to be taught in a way that they understand what is allowed and what not. Good habits gets learned very quickly but unfortunately, just like human kids, bad habits also gets learned quickly. The secret to raising a puppy is actually simple. You should create a stable, structured environment for him to grow up in, so how can I do that?
Puppies don’t know our right from wrong. It is up to us as their owners to guide them along and to teach them what we expect of them in a way they will understand. To do this however, you as owner should decide on all the rules and regulations well in advance. These rules should be applied with consistency. For example the puppy is not allowed to jump up on you. If that is the rule he should never be allowed to jump up on you. So what can you do should he jump up? Well a good idea is to teach him an alternate behavior from the start. If you teach you puppy to sit in front of you, he will not be able to jump up at the same time. The secret is to reward your puppy for the behaviors you approve of. We are very quick to let a puppy know when we are not happy, but what happens should they do something that we really approve of? We ignore it and that is where problems start. Let us look at Sam.
Sam is a 14 weeks old Spaniel. Sam is allowed on the couch and likes to sleep on the couch. Sam still has accidents inside but she mostly goes outside to do her business. We took advice from a dog whisperer now and each time we catch her doing her business inside we slap her with a rolled up newspaper. He suggested we push he nose into her urine as well to let her know we don’t approve of that behavior. Sam usually keeps herself busy with her chew toy or lying in her dog bed but the other day she made me so mad. She started chewing my slipper on the couch. After I gave her a good smack she ran outside. I don’t think she will do that again soon, I taught her a lesson. She also started biting me when we play. At one point it was really sore and I pulled away. I could see blood on my arm. I gave her a hard smack but my dog whisperer suggested I get a water spray bottle and when this happen I must squirt her in the face. I trust my dog whisperer friend, he grew up with dogs so he must know what he is talking about.
Sound familiar? Now let us have a look at this situation.
I am sure all of this sound familiar to many of us. These are only 3 examples of us humans setting your puppies up for failure. To top it all, your puppy did not learn a single thing. Even something simple as a rule to allow your puppy on the couch is important. Should you allow it, and suddenly one day you don’t allow it, your behavior will confuse your puppy. Later this confusion might lead to fear and even aggression in some dogs. The dog will also learn that you cannot be trusted, so a break down in the dog – human bond.
So what Should I do as a new puppy owner? Let us take the same 3 scenarios and figure out how we should have dealt with it.
In these three cases the puppy actually learned something. By manipulating the environment, and by rewarding Sam for more wanted behaviors, punishment was not necessary at all. In these cases we set Sam up for success.
Puppy – Proof Your Home
Even the best-trained puppies can have occasional hiccups in behavior as circumstances change and they are introduced to new things or you introduce new factors to the puppy’s environment. Setting your puppy up for success means setting up the environment in such a way as to not giving the puppy an opportunity to rehearse unwanted behaviors. It is actually very simple. Things you don’t want him to chew, out them away. Things you can identify that you cannot put away, don’t allow the puppy to get to such items. You can use baby gates for instance to cordon certain places off.
Reinforcing unwanted behaviours.
We are all guilty of this and it happens so easy. Say you are doing washing and Sam comes running into the room and grabs a sock. What do you do? The problem is, if you attempt to grab the sock now away from her it can very easily end up in a game of tug. Dogs love to tug. You might even think it is funny and laugh about it. Sam will see this now as a game, and we must remember that behaviors that ends in success for a dog will be repeated. If this ends up in a nice game of tug, this behavior might be repeated, and the more this happens the more it will be reinforced. Look accidents do happen and a puppy might grab something, this however should not end in a game. You can replace the sock with something else like a tug toy and that would work well. Punishing the puppy for grabbing a sock is also unfair towards the puppy as she has not learned the difference between a sock and a tug toy yet. Once again, prevention is better than cure. Keep her away from situations where this might happen. By doing so you set your puppy up for success.
The problem with punishing a puppy is that it will always have fallouts later in life. Let us have a look at some of these. This segment was taken from eileendanddogs , the fallout from the use of aversives.
Let us set our puppies up for success. Dr Ian Dunbar believes that owning an animal should be seen as a privelige and therefore should be treated with respect and understanding.
Trainers often hear clients referring to their dogs as “spiteful” or “stubborn”. And you often hear “but at home she does everything right, she is just being stubborn now!
Really? Let us have a look at how dogs learn things, then we decide if your dog is really “stubborn”.
Firstly, to be stubborn the dog must know exactly what is expected of him (the wanted behavior must have been generalized and proofed) and then the dog must make a conscious decision not to obey. Taking into account that all behaviors are motivated by reinforcement, being stubborn would be to no benefit of a dog and that makes it not logical.
So why is my dog not listening to me? Let me use Sky as an example.
Sky (not a stubborn dog in any sense) is my Border Collie. We are at home in my living room. We are relaxed and alone so it is the ideal time to teach Sky a new behavior. To make this explanation simple, let’s say I teach her to sit. In five minutes flat she sits every single time I ask her to. I started with luring her in position and after minutes she sits for me without the lure and just a hand signal. Another ten minutes later I can ask her to sit using a verbal cue only and she does it perfectly. Wow Sky is a clever girl… she learn so quickly… good girl!!!!
The following day I want to go show Sky off, so I go to the obedience training field. I am going to show that trainer how it’s done. I walk up to the trainer with Sky and I ask her to sit. She prefers to jump up on the trainer . I pull her back and this time I show her the food in my hand. She runs up to me and tries to grab the food from my hand. BAD DOG!!!! The trainer looks at me and my response to him. “I don’t understand it, she did it yesterday at home, she knows how to do it, she is so naughty, I think she is just stubborn today.
Now let us back track a bit and figure out why Sky is now so “stubborn”.
For us, and for the dog “sit” is very easy to do and very easy to teach and learn. The problem is, a dog’s brain is wired much differently than ours. When a dog learns a behavior, he learns that specific behavior in a specific context. If we humans learn a new skill, we can apply it pretty much under any condition and situation at any place. If I learn to balance a glass on my head I will be able to balance the glass at a club, a park or any other place for that matter. A dog’s brain works differently. If he learned to sit in my living room, he learned that behavior in that specific context. That is where generalization comes in. We can define generalization as an extension of a concept (or behaviour) from a familiar situation to a less familiar situation. Dogs are NOT good at generalizing learned behaviours. Let’s see under what conditions I trained Sky to sit.
Sky learned to sit under those exact circumstances. So what happened at the field? The thing is, when dogs learn something new, the dog (Sky) applies the whole context in which the new behavior was learned. So I taught Sky to sit in the living room, she will do it because the behavior was taught in that context. At the field the training fell apart, why? Because dogs are not good at generalizing. Sky is not choosing to disobey me and she is not being stubborn or spiteful in any way, she just was not taught that new behavior in other contexts. For Sky to fully learn and understand the sit behavior, I need to teach the behavior in different contexts, under different situations and in many different places, in other words I need to generalize the sit behavior. So for me to teach Sky how to sit, I need to do the following.
The above I can do by positive reinforcement. You can say I pay her for the wanted behaviors in dog currency, something of a very high value to the dog namely treats or food. Food rewards work well because it is a biological need, so a very good primary reinforcer. I therefore reward her well for the wanted behaviors so why would she at some point make a conscious decision not to do what I ask of her?
Maybe the problem is just that some types of dogs are harder to train than others in certain areas. It will take a real effort to teach a Beagle to retrieve something. It still does not mean he is stubborn. He was simply not “designed” to do it. They were selectively bred for a specific function, to follow their noses and to follow a scent and they are really brilliant at doing that. They have lots of stamina to do what they were “designed” for to the best of their abilities. Beagles not wanting to retrieve an object is not being stubborn in any way. They were simply not designed to do that. My Border Collie will never be able to compete with a Hound or Beagle when it comes to following a trail and they being unable to perform at the same level as a Beagle does not mean they are stubborn or spiteful, they just cannot do it as well because they were selectively bred for a different function. A Beagle will never perform as well as a Border Collie (you get exceptions but in general) in Agility. They are not sprinters but rather long distance athletes, they are simply not as fast.
In conclusion I think we are quickly to “blame the dog” even though we don’t really know what makes that particular dog tick. To call the dog stubborn is an easy way out of an uncomfortable situation. Sky is used to learning new things and I keep it fun and rewarding for her, so teaching her is very easy. Other dogs might not be used to learning new things and it will take much longer to teach them. The bottom line is all dogs are different, even dogs within the same breed are different, but because one dog learn something faster than the other does not mean such a dog is stubborn.
For more information regarding this feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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