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Puppy Series 101- Socialization

Raising puppies can be really stressful. As much as they are a blank slate, they really aren’t. Every single puppy in the litter is going to be different and need different things. There’s a lot of genetics and early experiences involved. Genetics, lack of socialization, stress during pregnancy, maternal behavior, and bad experiences all go into play as well.

Let’s start with puppy socialization. This is a pretty important topic that is confusing to a lot of owners. There is some extremely outdated advice out there to wait until your puppy receives all of it’s vaccines to go outside and be socialized. The American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior current position statement is that the “primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first 3 months of life. For that reason, the AVSAB believes that is should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated”. (AVSAB) Behavior problems are the biggest threat and the greatest reason for euthanasia and relinquishment, so socialization is number one priority. A dog who has not seen the outside world at 4 months has entirely missed it’s socialization window and there is no going back here. If your puppy can learn in it’s first 3-14 weeks of life that the world is safe, it will be worth gold it’s weight in gold for the rest of your dogs life.

Caveat: it is true that distemper and parvo are incredibly dangerous diseases for your puppy so I would recommend staying away from places and dogs that you do not know vaccination histories (ie: dog parks, pet stores), BUT you can and absolutely should let your puppy meet fully vaccinated, friendly dogs that you KNOW. Ask your friends if their dogs are vaccinated and friendly with puppies first. Make responsible choices. Make purposeful decisions to create positive social experiences. Use food, play, and affection to create a positive association.

The biggest thing here is to take it slow and think about what the puppy is learning. You want the puppy to learn that he has some choice in the matter. Do not just pass your puppy around to people, let the puppy explore on their own and go up to new people and dogs at their own pace. Let them also be able to escape dogs and people if they want to. (I recommend long drag leashes for this). Your puppies mind is like a sponge- create positive experiences.

Puppy socialization with other dogs should not just be a free for all. Avoid puppy classes where puppies are just allowed to play off leash together. We want the puppy to learn from the beginning that it pays to stay with us and pay attention to us. When you allow your puppy to play with other dogs, have high value treats ready so you can pay your puppy for coming back and checking in with you and then release them to go play again if they want to. Puppies should be regularly separated (recalled, not forced) to allow them to re-enter play or not, at their own will. Pay a lot for every check in!

My biggest advice for owners with puppies is to never allow greetings on leash (only harness and long line) . This advice can save you years of leash reactivity which usually stems from frustration from not being allowed to go see another dog or person on a leash. Teach your puppy that collar and leash time means attention to you and no free for alls. When the puppy is allowed to say hi, the clip of the leash goes on the back of the harness and you can give your puppy a “go say hi” cue and see if they want to go meet the dog or person.


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