Holiday time is a very popular time to get a new pup. Often many family members and friends are around and paying lots of attention to the new addition to the household. But what now as everyone returns to their regular routines? If you have ever spent time around dogs most likely you have observed how social many dogs are. Most dogs love to play, kiss, cuddle, and interact. While some of this is innate, the truth is that dogs actually need to learn social skills. Most experts agree that being exposed to a variety of experiences is crucial to a puppy becoming a well-rounded and happy adult dog. In other words, dogs are like children and the type of things they experience in their first few months of life will have a strong impact on what type of dog he/she will grow up to be and how he/she will interact with the rest of the world. Will your pup grow into a trusting dog? Will your pooch be fearful of kids or certain type of adults? Will your dog be aggressive toward other dogs or will he/she like to socialize with other dogs? Will your dog bite? Equally as concerning is the number of dogs who have separation anxiety and experience a wide variety of problems when left alone at home or when not with their owners. This can create a great deal of stress in people’s lives and can prevent them from going places and taking vacations.
According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) failure to properly expose a young pup in the very early stages of his/her life can lead to a forever fearful dog. Early socialization or lack of socialization is one of the most important factors in a dog’s life-long personality and in helping him/her becoming a well-adjusted dog. Studies have found that exposing puppies in the first 12 weeks of life are the most critical but should continue at least through-out the first 18 months. This is the time when dogs can adapt the easiest to new situations, environments, and type of people and help them become well-adjusted adult dogs.
So, what to do to help this adjustment occur? This is the fun part! You and your pup get to do lots of things together! Touch your puppy a lot and give him/her lots of hugs and cuddles. Expose him/her to all of the household sounds, smells, and activity such as doors opening and closing, vacuum cleaners, umbrellas opening and closing, etc. Let your puppy explore different surfaces to walk on, explore the steps, and provide him/her with a variety of toys. Take your pup for car rides regularly. Make going new places fun. Expose your dog to as many people as possible – kids, adults, men, women, people with hats on, etc. Once your dog has had the appropriate vaccinations (speak to your vet), take him/her too many different places to expose him/her to new stimuli and new environments. At this time, it is appropriate to expose your pup to other dogs whether in the neighborhood, in puppy social groups, or early training sessions. An AVSAB position statement says, “Veterinarians specializing in behavior recommend that owners take advantage of every safe opportunity to expose young puppies to the great variety of stimuli that they will experience in their lives. Enrolling in puppy classes prior to 3 months of age can be an excellent means of improving training, strengthening the human-animal bond, and socializing puppies in an environment where risk of illness can be minimized.”
Not only is all of this fun for you and your pup, it can help prevent serious behavior problems such as fear, avoidance, and aggression. It can also make the dog owners’ lives so much more pleasant. And, since the majority of dogs are given up to shelters due to behavior problems, it is worth investing the time and energy into your dog early on. It will pay off.