Socializing a puppy is one of the most important responsibilities of a pet owner. Puppies should be exposed to new people, environments and stimuli – even before they are fully vaccinated.
“The first two months of a puppy’s life should be spent with their mother and littermates. During this time, the puppy will learn how to interact with the other pups and be gently disciplined by their mother if they misbehave. This is one of several reasons puppies should never be taken from their litter before they are two months old. When a puppy arrives at its new home at about nine weeks of age, socialization should begin immediately and be ongoing, just like training,” says Anita Samadian, Dogtopia’s Regional Developer for Eastern Canada.
Owners must be cognizant that puppies are sensitive and vulnerable. Puppies need to have as many positive experiences as possible, particularly in the first few months. If a certain person, place or thing frightens a puppy they can be permanently imprinted and grow into a dog with behavioural problems. They can become anxious, avoidant, destructive and even aggressive.
Puppies transition through several fear stages during their adolescence, so positive socialization needs to be continuous and consistent. Of course, this doesn’t mean a young puppy should necessarily be taken to a dog park and come into contact with unfamiliar dogs that may exhibit poor social skills, or aggressive styles of play.
“Owners should socialize their new puppies with their friends and relatives, as well as the dogs of diligent pet owners, even prior to the second set of shots and examination at 12 weeks. Puppies can discriminately interact with people and other dogs on the street that are well behaved and on-leash.
“The risk of infection for puppies that are exposed to other dogs, within reasonable limits, is relatively low, while the risk of long-term behavioral problems is high for puppies that are not well socialized. Owners need to consider this and avoid the tendency to be excessively vigilant and over-protective,” says veterinarian Allan Corber of Mt. Pleasant-Davisville Veterinary Hospital, in Toronto.
Puppies receive positive reinforcement through socialization. Dogs are inherently pack animals, and thrive on being with their pack, even as puppies.
“In a daycare setting puppies can intermingle with small adolescent dogs in the same room and will naturally form a pack and hierarchy. In this context, puppies continue to learn how to communicate with each other in their own language. If a puppy steps out of line, another dog is there to correct them. At Dogtopia, this all takes place, of course, under the constant supervision of trained playroom attendants. It is a process that is crucial to ensuring an emotionally healthy puppy at home, and well-adjusted adolescent dog,” Samadian said.