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Socialization: A Lifelong Process

by Michelle St Germain on 08/23/12

     Much like a 2 year old toddler ,a dog need to be socialized as well.  This process is not a short and simple process.  It should begin as early as possible and continue through the lifespan of the dog.  Puppies should begin socialization with people as soon as they are born.  Dr Ian Dunbar's rule of thumb is that a neonate pup should meet 50 different people between birth and 2 months of age.  The socialization process with other dogs is immediatly taking place with its littermates and the mother.  Unfortunatly, depending on who the breeder is this process generally is not happening early enough resulting in shy fearful puppies.  Most neonates are handled only by the person who bred them and possibly their families.  There is much work to be done in this area.  Before you buy a puppy ask the breeder this important question, who have their dogs been handled by? how often? and from what age?

     We bring our puppies home between 6 and 8 weeks of age. (Just a word of caution on this as well, puppies should stay with their littermates and mother until a minimum of 8 weeks.)   We are on top of the world and can't wait to take the puppy everywhere to show it off to anyone who will look at him.  Puppies attract people, it is a universal method to meeting someone new.  What a way to meet a potential mate if you are a single person who owns a puppy! :)  Although you must exercise caution due to the pup not being fully vaccinated, this does not mean to vacuum seal the pup and be terrified to take it out of your house and yard.  Be smart about it, carry him where possible, don't take him to parks where other dogs frequent, and most importantly wipe his feet well after a walk.  Puppies could be 4 to 4.5  months old by the time he is fully vaccinated, this is too late to start the socialization process.  Puppies by this time need to have met at least 50 unfamiliar men, 50 unfamiliar women and 50 unfamiliar children of all ages!!!  This unfortunatly is not being done, resulting in shy, fearful puppies.  It is so easy to do, it's FREE and it is a lot of fun! 

     There is also the increasing problem of raising dog to dog friendly dogs as well.  It is amazing to me how many dogs by the time they  are adolescents are not happy in the company of other dogs.  This process is also being sadly neglected!  Dogs are social animals and should not dislike other dogs.  Sure, arguments are a fact of life and you cannot expect your dog to like every single dog he meets but so many dogs can not even take a walk daily without an embarrasing reaction at the mere sight of another dog.  No, there is nothing wrong with your dog, it was not ever allowed to interract with other dogs on a regular basis and never allowed to practice any social skills with them.  Now it is only reacting as a dog does in these situations(and as only as a dog knows how to)...barking, lunging, growling, and even biting!  :(   Now we have a potentially dangerous situation on our hands. The signs begin so subtly, we often miss them until the problem errupts into a vast display of aggression.  It never just happens, the signs were always there...we simply missed them.   Then, we inevidably STOP walking the dog, which will create a whole other array of behavioural problems!  Another BLOG!

We tend to take puppies everywhere, maybe even to puppy school.  Once the puppy hits about a year old or puppy school classes end in 6 to 8 weeks,  we figure the process is DONE!!!  That is not further from the truth, this is where  the process is beginning.  It's easy and safe to socialize a young pup.  Things can drastically change at adolecense.  They are bigger, stronger, faster and have a mouthful of strong sharp adult teeth.  This can now be more of a challenge.   If the process was started early enough (I recommend between 10 and 12 weeks of age) the transition between puppy hood and adolescense will be smoother and often without behavioral surprises. 

Socialization after adolencence will quickly regress if owners stop taking the the much needed time to continue socializing their dogs.  But my dog lives with another dog?  The ususual excuse for not taking your dog out of the yard.  Yes, that is socilaization but only to that dog or to your family & friends.  Socialization for animals as it is with people is to unfamiliar dogs, unfamiliar people and to unfamiliar environments and experiences!!

     Puppies are naturally curious and playful.  Capitalize on these qualities and start early enough in their lives and continue the process throughout their lives.  Your dog and your family will all benefit from it.  I guarantee it! 

There is nothing more fun to watch than dogs playing happily together.  Playtime also helps puppies and dogs to fine tune their bite inhibiton skills.  What better teachers than another dog.  They will give important feedback to your dog and vice versa when play gets to rough.  "HEY, that hurt...if you want me to keep playing with you, you better not nip me as hard"  Dog playtime will also give you the owner more practice in being abe to control your dog better around other dogs.  "Can you get your dog to COME when called away from another dog?"

 I take our 2 year old Boxer to the dog park at least once a week to allow her to practice her social skills.  I also plan playdates/walks with friends and their dogs to make sure she stays socially savvy with other dogs.  If these skills are left unchallenged you will end up with a dog that is reactive to other dogs and people.  If you don't use it you will LOSE it.  Isn't that the old saying for most anything we have learned. 

Be responsible and socialize your dogs for their whole lives.  You won't regret you did!

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