Puppy socialization part 2: Getting it right
This is the second part of a two part series on puppy socialization.
Last week, I offered some insight into why puppy socialization is one of the most important things you can do with your new arrival. Today, lets talk more about socialization strategies that work, and some that don’t as you help your little one get used to the great big world around him.
One great way to help socialize a puppy is to attend puppy kindergarten classes. These are classes designed especially for puppy training and early socialization. In a typical puppy class, off-leash play and play-fighting helps socialize puppies with each other, teaches them to be gentle with their mouthing and biting, and gets them used to being handled by a variety of people. Some classes even include exposure to odd sights and sounds using props, CDs of sounds, and theatrics with costumes to accustom the puppies to a wide range of life experiences. Puppy classes also teach some basic obedience skills, so on top of the socialization component, you’ll learn how to ask your pup to comply with your requests and behave according to your expectations with these distractions.
Vaccinations and disease risk during early socialization
Most young puppies aren’t fully protected against the diseases we vaccinated them for until they’ve had all of their puppy shots. This is mainly because the antibodies they get from their mother can interfere with the ability of the vaccine to have its full effect. Even though puppies’ immune systems are still developing during their early months, if we wait until a puppy has all of his shots before socializing him, we miss our chance to do it. He’ll simply be too old. The good news is that if you take some common sense precautions while socializing your puppy, the risk of infection is quite small compared to the much larger risk of your puppy developing serious behavior problems with fear and aggression later in life. Veterinarians specializing in behavior recommend that owners take advantage of every opportunity to socialize young puppies in environments like puppy classes, where the risk of illness can be minimized. They state that: “Puppy socialization classes offer a safe and organized means of socializing puppies. Each puppy should have up-to-date vaccinations and be disease and parasite free before entering the class. Where possible, classes should be held on surfaces that are easily cleaned and disinfected (e.g., indoor environments). Visits to dog parks or other areas that aren’t sanitized or are highly trafficked by dogs of unknown vaccination or disease status should be avoided.”
The experts now agree that the risk of a puppy being given up or later euthanized for behavior problems is so huge that young puppies must be socialized before they are done with their vaccinations. The recommendation is to socialize puppies as safely as possible by exposing the puppy to people, places and other animals while not taking unnecessary risks. Well-run puppy classes, indoor classes where all the puppies have been vaccinated at least once, are a safe and smart way to socialize a puppy.
“In general, puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7 to 8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class as well as a first deworming. They should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.” The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.
Other safe ways to socialize a puppy who is not fully vaccinated
Drive to a busy mall and hang out with your pup on a mat at the entrance. Strangers will flock to you because they want to pet your puppy and they’ll willingly feed him the treats that you’ve brought with you.
Host a puppy party! Invite friends and family over, play some music, toss some streamers, and pass your pup around.
Bring your puppy to indoor Scouts meetings. Supervise the children interacting with him to make sure he’s not frightened by them and they’re being gentle.
Take your pup on car rides through different neighborhoods, drive-thrus, car washes, and out into the country where he’ll see and smell a variety of farm animals.
Arrange play sessions with other puppies and adult dogs who you know are healthy and friendly. Always supervise play sessions.
If your puppy is small enough, carry him around town and let strangers pet him and give him treats.
Socialization is essential for helping your puppy develop into a happy, fun and safe companion. Most people find it easier and more enjoyable to live with a dog who’s relaxed with strangers, gets along well with dogs and adapts easily to new experiences. While some dogs are born with genetic predispositions that can make this difficult or impossible, most dogs are very impressionable when young and can learn to take everything in stride. Socializing your puppy gives him the greatest chance possible to develop into a dog who’s comfortable in his environment and a joy to be with.
Resource: WebMD, ASPCA