Why puppy socialization is an essential skill
In the course of its development from newborn to adolescent, the puppy socialization stage is a critical time. While it may take place for only several weeks, the effects tend to be long lasting, in fact permanent. Puppies not only need to socialize with other dogs but socializing with humans at an early stage in their life is also necessary if they are to make good companions.
While the specific social skills for a dog are very different from those needed by a human, in a broader sense, the needs are the same. We occasionally run across people who are lacking in social skills. While there may be many reasons, some beyond a person’s control, a lack of social skills affects and undermines proper upbringing.
As they grow and play, they learn other necessary social skills from interacting with their mother and their littermates. The puppy’s mother teaches a pup how to accept correction. A warning growl or a scruff shake from a mother dog teaches puppies how to accept dominance and helps them to understand their place in the pack. This relationship and ability to take correction will be essential to later puppy training.
The mother dog is not going to be an expert on socializing a puppy with humans; that is our job. Socializing with humans essentially involves showing respect, not being aggressive or overly playful, and above all, being obedient. Steps can be taken to make a puppy comfortable around humans almost from the time of its birth. Even when a puppy is young it can still be touched, petted, or gently handled so that it will not develop a fear of humans.
Socialization with littermates
Puppy socialization with its litter mates typically occurs starting at about the 5th week of its life, and it is critical that a puppy not be removed from the litter before this time.
Puppies also learn important social skills from their siblings and littermates. Dogs learn through play so it is essential that a young dog has the opportunity to remain with its littermates until they are at least 8 weeks old. During this period of growth and play, dogs learn bite inhibition.
As dogs play and tumble and frolic with their littermates, they often play games involving biting and mouthing. If a dog bites or mouths one of its litter mates too hard, the other dog will end the play. This teaches a dog that it must be careful when using its mouth to preserve its social relationships. This principle of bite inhibition can be used later by humans to help teach dogs that mouthing or biting is not appropriate.
Rules of obedience
The final stage of puppy socialization is the training phase, where the puppy begins to learn the rules of obedience. Formal obedience lessons are invaluable at this stage, especially to help the puppy learn to socialize with dogs other than its littermates. Now the puppy can be taught basic commands, including the very important one of not jumping up on people.
Young dogs also learn to share food and dog treats through play with their littermates. Finally, their relationship further cements the concepts of dominance and submission. Stronger or more dominant pups in the litter begin to teach the weaker or smaller pups how to submit. Thus, dogs learn the importance of the pack and following rules. This early training can also be vital to a dog’s behavior throughout his life.
Socializing puppies with humans
Between a puppy’s 7th and 12th week is an ideal period to focus on puppy socialization with humans. Socialization of this type is typically accomplished through handling and spending some time with the puppy. Not too much at first, and it is important not to do anything that might frighten the puppy at this stage. When a puppy has grown enough to leave the litter and head for its new home, it should be used to being around people and being held. A puppy is also entering its playful stage at this time, which is an ideal time to solidify the bonding between puppy and human.
Bringing a puppy into a new home also often involves introducing it to other members of the family. Special care should be taken when including dogs to small children. The children must be taught how to approach and handle the puppy so as not to frighten it. If this goes well, puppy and children usually become friends for life.
Socializing your puppy with the wide world
Once a pup is adopted, at 8 weeks or older, it is essential that socialization continue. Young puppies are the most receptive to new experiences during their first six months of life. After this window of opportunity closes, dogs tend to greet new concepts and ideas more fearfully and more hesitantly. Exposing your dogs to as many experiences as possible helps lay the foundation for a friendly, confident and happy dog. Dogs not socialized as puppies may have lifelong behavioral problems and create fear-based aggression. By ensuring that dog is well socialized, fear-based aggression will not develop.
It is essential to introduce your dog not only to other dogs, but to people, experiences, and sounds. You will want your dog to become familiar with riding in a car. They should also get comfortable visiting places like the vet or the local pet store. You also want our pup to know that visitors to the home are a positive experience. Finally, you want to expose your pup to common household sounds like vacuums and dishwashers and blenders. Early exposure can be essential to your dog accepting and understanding all of these experiences as a routine part of life.
The first several months of your puppy’s life are essential to setting the stage for your relationship.The bond between a human and a pet can be loving and amazing. However, it is essential to introduce a dog properly into a home and give that dog the foundation for a healthy life.
Have more questions about dog training and socialization? Check out our other articles
This guest post was provided by Rosie Tran.