December 20, 2006
Do not underestimate the importance of socialization. It may well be the most important factor in determining your puppy's overall demeanor as an adult dog.
Most puppies leave the breeder for their new homes between the ages of seven and eight weeks. The next two months of their lives are crucial in terms of socialization. By the age of 16 weeks, your puppy's personality will be fully developed. A well thought-out program of socialization will prevent future behavioral issues in your dog.
Now, everybody knows that puppies between the ages of eight and 16 weeks are not fully immunized against distemper, parvo and rabies. Owners must keep this in mind during the socialization period. Never allow a puppy to come in contact with another dog's feces or urine while out on his walks. Should you encounter a strange dog while out and about, avoid nose-to-nose contact between the dogs. Ask other owners if their dogs are up to date with all their shots before allowing your puppy to interact.
Some overprotective owners avoid all contact with other dogs until their dogs are fully immunized. While this may be the best way to prevent the spread of disease-causing germs, this strategy will greatly inhibit a puppy's socialization, possibly leading to fear aggression, shyness and other behavioral problems.
If you have friends with dogs you know to be properly immunized, set up supervised interactions or play dates as part of your program of socialization. Also, look around for a well-organized "puppy kindergarten" and enroll your pup. Puppy kindergartens are ideal socialization environments. Your pup will learn to meet and greet other pups and to "play nice." Ask other owners and their children to interact with your puppy while at puppy kindergarten. This will socialize him to both strangers and kids. Have them feed your pup treats to set up positive associations in greeting strangers.
Visits to the veterinarian's office should also be part of your socialization program. From time to time you should stop by the office, let your puppy smell the smells there, and take a treat or two from staff members. Then, when it is time for your puppy's shots, or an exam, he will remember the office as a friendly place to go.
Socialization includes exposure to many sights and sounds. Walk your puppy through town or in the city. Let him experience the hustle and bustle of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. While out on your walks, guide your puppy over various surfaces, including manhole covers and gratings. Teach him to stop at corners before crossing streets and avenues.
All dogs require some grooming, and some dogs need lots of it. Start desensitizing your puppy by brushing and combing his coat. Go over his entire body with your hands. Focus on all four paws, ears, mouth and eyes. After a little practice you should be able to touch your puppy anywhere without alarming him. This will be of great help when you begin to clip his nails regularly.
The time you spend socializing your puppy will pay off handsomely down the road. Properly socialized puppies grow into friendly, well-mannered canine companions, eager for a lifetime of fun!