Contrary to what you may be told, it is never too late to socialize a puppy. Even adult dogs can benefit from socialization classes and lessons. Failure to teach social skills to a pup, or dog, is one of the reasons so many attacks take place. It is also a contributing factor to why so many dogs are surrendered to animal shelters.
Pups first socialization lessons are from their mom and litter mates. They learn that rough play is allowed to a point, but when it becomes too rough it is not allowed. They learn the pecking order, how to read doggy body language, and so forth. This really comes into play at about 5 weeks of age and continues on until they are weaned. As such it is important that pups are not weaned too early and many breeders are now opting to keep the pups with their mother until 8 weeks of age.
If you are the new owner of a pup you must be aware that it is not safe to socialize to other dogs right away. The puppy is not fully vaccinated and can get diseases such as Parvo just by walking in areas where dogs have shed the virus. As such your pup should be kept strictly in your house and fenced yard until it is fully vaccinated, which usually happens around 12 weeks of age.
Until that point you can socialize your pup to your family and friends, as well as your other house pets, such as cats. The first day will be stressful so do not overwhelm the pup right away, but gradually introduce people over the first week in your home. The pup should have a crate, a save place to go, and people should respect that when the pup is in the crate it is to be left alone.
If the puppy shows signs of aggression or dominance they should be handled correctly. For example if the pup growls when you try to take its food away, and you back off, you have not dealt with it correctly, and have actually taught the dog to be possessive of its food and to growl.
When puppies and children are together they should both be fully supervised. Children should not be encouraged to pull the puppies tail, or ears, or to “ride” the puppy, even if it allows this. This is disrespectful to the dog and could put the child in danger. You want to make sure that the children are not allowing the puppy to jump up on them or allowing the puppy to teethe on them (which some kids tend to find "cute).
When introducing other pets you will want to do so slowly and again, under supervision. If you have cats it is best to restrain the pup and reward it for ignoring the cat. If you have dogs it is best to have them wear a collar and leash and be in a position to grab the leash and seperate them if needed.
After the pup is fully vaccinated the best socialization lessons are the ones you can get in a puppy obedience class. Your pup will encounter many dogs of different sizes and personality types. Most classes allow for a few minutes of free play to allow the dogs to learn and practice socialization skills that you simply cannot teach on your own. Obedience lessons teach much more than "sit" and "stay" they are critical in developing a well socialized dog.
Even small dogs benefit from such classes. All too often people coddle their small breed puppies and carry them around. The puppy never learns social skills and as a result many small breed puppies grow into adult dogs that are extremely anti-social and scared.
Out in Public
Once the puppy is fully vaccinated and has learned a few basic skills, such as walking on a leash and how to "sit" it can be taken out to public places to meet people. The puppy should be taught to "sit" when meeting strangers rather than jumping up on them. You will want to take it near traffic and around other unusual situations but make sure that it knows to keep its attention mostly on you. Let it learn to be a dog, picking it up and carrying it does not teach social skils.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, it is never too late for a puppy, or dog, to learn social skills. By taking him, or her, out to places where they can meet other dogs and learn how to behave correctly with them and watch their body language you create a better pet. Even if your puppy, or dog, missed earlier socialization it is never too late. Sign up for obedience lessons that offer the chance for your pet to learn important social skills.
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