Friday, May 2, 2008

Puppy Socialization Ideas

When some people hear that they need to socialize their puppy they think it means introducing the puppy to other people and dogs. Socialization definitely includes that, but it also includes giving the puppy an idea of how the world works and feels. What do different surfaces feel like under their feet, how do different textured items feel in their mouth, what kinds of sounds does the world make, etc.

Little Louie is now 14 weeks old. For the first three weeks that he was home we tried to cram in as many experiences as possible since the critical socialization phase for a dog is from 8 to 12 weeks old. During this period their puppy brains are like little sponges capable of soaking up vast quantities of information and stimulation. If exposed to potentially frightening things in a safe, healthy way during this period a puppy can learn not to be fearful.

Of course we are still working on socializing Louie... that really never stops, but we did manage to cover most of the items in the list below before he turned 12 weeks old. I believe it is critical to lay a diverse foundation so that your puppy will grow up to be confident and open to new situations. It seems like with each dog I have I do a little bit better on this. I did a pretty good job with Katie, but failed to give her enough exposure to children and to some of the other items listed below. I thought since she met over a hundred adults during this period that children wouldn't be a problem... I was wrong. It's more challenging to overcome "issues" with an adult dog than it is with a puppy. Katie is doing fabulously now, but it has taken a lot of extra time and effort to help her over some hurdles that could have easily been avoided in the first place.

In case there are any current puppy owners or future puppy owners reading this, I thought I would post the list that was so helpful to me when Louie came along. We got it from our sweet puppy school teacher. It is adapted from "The Puppy's Rule of 12" by Margaret Hughes of Positive Paws Dog Training.

Make sure all experiences are safe and positive for the puppy. Each encounter should include treats and lots of praise. Slow down and add distance if your puppy is scared!

By the time a puppy is 12 weeks old, it should have:

Experienced different surfaces: wood, woodchips, carpet, tile, cement, linoleum, grass, wet grass, dirt, mud, puddles, deep pea gravel, grates, uneven surfaces, on a table, on a chair, etc......

Played with different objects: fuzzy toys, big & small balls, hard toys, funny sounding toys, wooden items, paper, cardboard, milk jugs, metal items, car keys, etc.......

Experienced different locations: front yard, other people’s homes, school yard, lake, pond, river, boat, basement, elevator, moving car, garage, laundry room, kennel, veterinarian (just to say hi, no vaccinations), grooming salon (just to say hi), etc....

Met and played with many new people (outside of family): include children, adults (mostly men), elderly adults, people in wheelchairs, people with canes, crutches, hats, sunglasses, etc….

Exposed to different noises (ALWAYS keep positive and watch puppy’s comfort level -we don’t want the puppy scared): garage door, doorbell, children playing, babies screaming, big trucks, Harley motorcycles, skateboards, washing machine, shopping carts rolling, power boat, clapping, loud singing, pan dropping, horses neighing, vacuums, lawnmowers, dog dryer etc…

Exposed to fast moving objects (don’t allow to chase): skateboards, roller-skates, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, people running, cats running, scooters, vacuums, children running, squirrels, cats, horses running, etc…

Experienced different challenges: climb on, in, off and around a box, go through a cardboard tunnel, climb up and down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide & seek, go in and out a doorway with a step up or down, exposed to an electric sliding door, umbrella, walk on a wobbly table (plank of wood with a small rock underneath), jump over a broom, climb over a log, etc....

Handled by owner (& family) at least once a day: hold to chest, hold on floor near owner, hold in-between owner’s legs, hold head, clean ears, introduce gentle tooth brushing, touch in-between toes, hold and take temperature (ask veterinarian), hold like a baby, trim toe nails, hold in lap, bath, gentle grooming, etc…

Eaten from different shaped containers: wobbly bowl, metal, paper, coffee cup, china, pie plate, plastic, Kong, Treatball, spoon fed etc......

Eaten in different locations: back yard, front yard, crate, kitchen, basement, laundry room, bathroom, friend’s house, car, school yard, bathtub, up high (on work bench), under umbrella, etc....

Played with many different puppies (or safe adult dogs) as much as possible.

Left alone safely, away from family & other animals (5-45 minutes) at least once a day.

Experienced a leash and collar 12 different times in 12 different locations.

If your puppy is over 12 weeks start right away with this socialization guide. Better late than never...you can still have a very positive impact on the adult dog your puppy will soon become.

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