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Socializing Charlie Brown

As a behaviorist and trainer, I cannot stress enough the importance of early socialization for puppies to be able to grow into friendly, confident members of your family. Socialization means to give your puppy positive exposure to everything they might come across as an adult dog. This needs to be done in a planned out and careful way, and if done poorly, it will most likely do more harm than good. Most of the dogs I work with that are suspected of abuse, most likely are under-socialized and not abused. 

There is a small window of opportunity during weeks 3-12 when Socialization is easy. Most puppies come home during week 8, and that gives you only 4 weeks to make the biggest impact on your puppy's adult life.

Dogs with limited exposure to a variety of environments are less flexible, easily stressed, and will quickly enter the fight or flight response. So take your puppy with you! Expose them to car rides, the park, the vet’s office, sporting practice or game, pet store, or a friend’s house. Ask local businesses or your place of employment if they allow dogs, or would be willing to make an exception for your puppy. Have them walk on different surfaces, like gravel, sand, grass, pavement, woodchips, shiny floors, carpets, or tile. Take them camping, a hike through the woods, or a stroll down main street during a low traffic time.

They need to meet new people. They need to meet men, women, children, the elderly, and the disabled. They need to meet your family and friends. Men with facial hair, people wearing hats, sunglasses, back packs, big coats, long hair, short hair, people of different ethnicities, and people in uniforms. They need to meet new children. Even if you have children in your own home, they should meet new children too. Be very careful with new children; puppies can easily get hurt by a well intentioned child.

Let’s not forget about other dogs. Make a point for your new puppy to meet new friendly dogs. Talk with your friends, family, and neighbors and schedule some puppy play dates with dogs that are patient, friendly, and have good social skills. Keep the numbers of new dogs to two or three, and avoid dog parks or puppy classes where all the puppies are thrown together to sort it out. Look for opportunities for them to meet dogs that are big, small, tall, short, plump, skinny, fast, slow, floppy ears, not so floppy ears, docked tails, other puppies, adolescents, adults, (patient) old dogs, long hair, curly hair, or no hair. Dogs that move differently, breathe loudly, or do a lot of snorting. 

It’s very important to keep it positive. Don’t expose your dog to another dog that could potentially harm or scare your puppy. If during the puppy play date things are making you uncomfortable, give the dogs a few minutes to cool off, calm down, or even take a nap.

Don’t make the mistake that Socializing is only for leaving the house. You need to socialize your puppy to your house too. Intentionally expose your puppy to other household pets (cats, birds, rodents, reptiles), and maybe even farm animals. Expose them to sounds they might hear around the house such as the vacuum, dishwasher, microwave, refrigerator, washing machine and dryer, hair dryer, or garage door opener. Purposely drop something that might clang to startle your puppy, yet not frighten your puppy. As always, keep life positive for your puppy.

A few questions I often get….

Q: How often should I socialize my puppy? 

A: Every single day from the age of 8 weeks until 14 weeks. If you can’t leave the house, then focus on something within the house to expose your puppy to.

Q: What do I do when I take my puppy out in public? 

A: Keep Socialization positive and be careful to not overwhelm them. Plan ahead with pockets (or treat bag) filled with treats, and when you’re exposing your puppy to these new things, use lots of encouragement, toys, and treats to help your puppy associate fun things with new experiences. Have strangers meet them with treats either handed to them or dropped for the more shy puppies. Teach them something fun (trick) or revisit an easy obedience command. (come and sit)

Q: What should I avoid? 

A: Large crowds, very hot weather, extremely cold weather, aggressive or unfamiliar dogs, dog parks, anything that might actually frighten your puppy, and teaching a new command or trick. Remember this is about positive experiences. Teach the new stuff when you’re home and it’s easy to learn.

Photos of Charlie in his first 2 weeks with me. With the vet, at the fire station, hiking with neighbors, and at the library.

Charlie’s first couple of weeks with me have been packed full of lots of Socialization. So far in the last two weeks Charlie has met hundreds of strangers, attended two soccer games and a soccer practice, been to the apple orchard, had nine puppy play dates with four different families, been to the vet’s office twice, had visiting family and friends on four different days, gone hiking, walked through two pet supply stores on four different days, walked through a farm store, sat in on preschool reading hour at the library, has gone to the library three other times, and went with us to the Fire Station open house.  He’s becoming well known in our little town. Each time I take him out I make sure my treat bag is filled with a variety of treats, and I have a couple of his favorite toys or bones. When strangers ask to pet him, I let them know he knows how to sit, and have them either pet him or give him a treat while he’s sitting. When we visit a new place I give him lots of encouragement or treats, followed by praise for a job well done. (his job is to stay calm) In the pet stores, farm store, and sometimes just walking through town, I will take about 5 minutes and work on simple obedience commands and a few tricks we’re working on. I keep a close eye on him and make sure he’s always feeling happy and good about where we are and who we’re meeting. If I think he might be getting overwhelmed, I create a bigger personal bubble or leave depending on the environment. At the vet’s office when I’ve needed to wait in the exam room, we play a game of fetch until the next person comes in. Then while he’s getting examined and vaccinated I’m feeding him some of his most favorite treats.

I also want to set Charlie up for success. A tired dog is a good dog, but an exhausted dog is just a disaster. I plan ahead on what we’re going to do and make sure I adjust his awake and active time as necessary. If I want him nice and calm in the library, I take him for a walk or other similar activity to make sure he’s sleepy while we’re there. However if I want him to hike a couple of miles with me, I make sure he’s gotten plenty of rest before and will be able to get plenty of rest afterwards too.

Socialization is about planning ahead and keeping it positive. 

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