THE IMPORTANCE OF PUPPY SOCIALIZATION
There was once a time when you rarely encountered the word “socialization” in dog circles. Today it’s the new training buzzword.
A half-century ago, no one talked about canine socialization because they didn’t need to. For the most part dogs wandered freely in their neighborhoods, accompanied kids to the school bus stop, hung out with canine pals all day, and became naturally socialized to their world and the people, dogs, and things they encountered in their daily travels.
Today a large segment of our pet-owning population is made up of more responsible canine guardians and caretakers. A nationwide paradigm shift has changed our attitudes about our dogs. No longer just “pets,” many of our beloved four-legged family members are kept inside our homes and in safely fenced yards, supervised closely when around children, and only encounter other dogs under controlled conditions – at training class, maybe during a brief on-leash greeting, during scheduled play dates, and perhaps at the dog park. The thought of our beloved dogs running free in the streets gives us heart palpitations, and we grieve terribly whenever we lose one.
On the plus side, this means our dogs live longer, physically healthier lives. On the minus side, it means they no longer benefit from the natural socialization process that occurred when they were allowed to explore their world and figure out how things work on their own. As a result, we’ve spawned a whole new behavior problem: undersocialization.
Building a Social Dog
Socialization is really classical conditioning. Behavioral scientists have identified the period from 4 to 14 weeks as the most important
window of time for a puppy’s social development. After the age of 14 weeks that window starts to close, and it closes pretty quickly. If a pup is super-socialized during this important developmental period he’ll most likely believe the world is a safe and happy place. If he’s not well-socialized, he’s likely to be neophobic, which means fearful of new things. This is a common condition in dogs rescued from puppy mills and hoarder situations. It is challenging to own and train a dog who is afraid of everything new he encounters; worse, the neophobic canine is also a strong candidate for developing fear-related aggression.
Lack of exposure to new things is one cause of undersocialization; inappropriate exposure is another. If you’re not careful during your socialization efforts you may inadvertently set your pup up to create negative associations with parts of the world around him. In that case you can actually sensitize your pup to the things you’re introducing him to – that is, you can make him afraid of them – the exact opposite outcome of the one you want.
Think of the well-meaning soccer mom who takes the family’s brand-new nine-week old pup to watch her son’s team practice. The entire team suddenly spies the adorable fluffball and charges toward the pup to oogle over him. The terrified puppy screams, pees, and tries to run away when he sees a dozen giant human creatures coming toward him at a dead run. He can’t escape; he’s trapped by the leash, which panics him even more.
Mom sees the pup flailing at the end of the leash and scoops him up in her arms to calm him so the boys can pet him. Now he’s even more trapped! One boy reaches to pat him on the head, and the pup, thinking he may be about to die, as a last resort snaps at the lowering hand that appears poised to grab him. The boy yanks his hand away, and mom smacks the puppy for being “bad.”
How much worse could it get? This puppy now has an extreme fear of children, especially boys, thanks to at least three negative classical associations in rapid succession:
1. Boys/children are scary; they run toward you in large packs.
2. Boys/children are scary; they try to grab your head.
3. Boys/children make bad things happen – when they are nearby, mom becomes violent.
The pup may also have developed negative associations with the collar and leash, wide open fields, being picked up, and mom. In addition, he learned one important important lesson – snapping is a successful behavioral strategy for making scary hands go away. None of these things are the lessons we want a young pup to learn! And now the puppy is labeled as “not good with children” and a “fear-biter.”
The good news is that at nine weeks this pup’s socialization window is still wide open, and if his owner is smart she has time to repair the damage. Unfortunately, most owners don’t realize the importance of taking immediate steps to change a pup’s association if he has a bad experience at a young age. They think that waiting until he’s older, around 6 months may be a better time to socialize him to his environment. The majority of the time this is just to late. You can’t wait that long to introduce a pup to the world we live in.
Socialization is the process of giving a puppy positive associations with the people, places, and things in his world. You need to be sure he’s having a great time, playing fun games, getting good stuff, and protected from scary stuff while you’re teaching him that the world is a safe and happy place. This is exactly what we do in the Woofingham Palace Puppy Playcare Socialization Sessions
If you bring your new pup home when he’s 8 weeks old, 4 of his 10 prime socialization weeks are already gone. Since a quarter to a half or more of a pup’s most important socialization time has passed by the time he leaves his mother and moves into his forever home, it’s vitally important that breeders invest time and energy into socializing their litters.
This includes having the pups walk and play on different flooring (grass, gravel, concrete, carpeting, and vinyl); inviting lots of different kinds of people over to play with and handle the pups; exposing them to household objects and sounds (microwave, telephone, television, vacuum cleaner); and making sure your poppy has positive associations with all these things.
Sadly, a small minority of breeders do a really good job of it, which contributes significantly to the population of under-socialized dogs in our world. If the breeder of your pup did her part, then your pup is already well-started on his super-socialization program. Now it’s your responsibility to keep it up.
If your pup comes to you from a socially impoverished environment, you’ll already see the signs of neophobia. You have no time to lose, and you may never be able to make up all the ground he’s lost, but you can make him better than he’d be otherwise. Puppies
should have 100 new (positive) exposures in the first 100 days.” If your pup is already showing signs of timidity or fear, triple that to 300 exposures in 100 days. And get busy!
Puppy Class or Daycare such as the ones offered at Woofingham Palace are the best places to find lots of positive socialization opportunities. Unfortunately, because of their fear of disease transmission, some Veterinarians still caution their clients with puppies to keep their young canines safely at home until fully vaccinated, or at the very least until they have received a minimum of two shots, usually by the age of 12 weeks. Twelve weeks leaves only two weeks of critical socialization time – assuming there’s a class starting up immediately after the pup receives his second shot. Not good enough! Please read these guidelines which all Vets are aware of.
Playing in the gene pool Of course, your dog’s genetics also influence his behavior and social tendencies. Behavior is always a combination of genetics and environment. Nature and nurture. Always.
Genes dictate how easily reinforced a dog is for the things the environment tosses at him during his lifetime. Hence a dog who is genetically programmed to be reinforced by chasing things that move becomes a good herding dog, fox hound, or ratter. The difference is the herding dog is (hopefully) not programmed to be reinforced by killing the things he chases, while the hound and the
Pups who are genetically programmed to be reinforced for the consequences of acting behaviorally bold are naturally easier to socialize, even if their first few weeks lacked stimulation, than ones who are genetically programmed to be reinforced for the results of acting timid or fearful. How do you know which behavioral genes your pup has for social behavior? You really don’t.
It’s useful to see your pup’s parents – at least the mother, if at all possible. If Mom is timid or aggressive there’s a good chance her pups will be, too. The pups’ behavior still can’t be attributed solely to genes; pups can learn fearful or aggressive behavior by watching their mother’s response to humans and other environmental stimuli, a behavioral phenomenon known as social facilitation.
Don’t despair if you adopted your pup from a shelter or rescue group. It’s true that if you never see Mom or Dad, you won’t get any hints about their behavior. So how do you know how much socialization your pup needs to overcome any genetic weakness in temperament? You don’t. But you don’t need to. The answer to the genetic mystery is to super-socialize every single puppy, regardless of what you think you know, or don’t know, about his genetics. If you do that, you’re guaranteed to help your pup be everything he can be, socially speaking. Woofingham Palace can offer this to every puppy and our Puppy Playcare Sessions are open to puppies 10 weeks
– 16 weeks.
There’s no such thing as overkill when it comes to properly done socialization. You can’t do too much. Pups who are super-socialized tend to assume that new things they meet later in life are safe and good until proven otherwise. Dogs who are very well-socialized as pups are least likely to develop aggressive behaviors in their lifetimes. Pups who aren’t well-socialized tend to be suspicious and fearful of new things they meet throughout their lives, and are the ones most likely to eventually bite someone.
Woofingham Palace Puppy Program
As soon as you get your puppy speak to Woofingham Palace regarding starting Puppy Training Class and Puppy Playcare Sessions.
Puppy Playcare is held every Wednesday and Friday morning from 8.30am – 11.30am. We have a maximum of 10 puppies in each session. You leave them with us and then pick them up 3 hours later. This is an excellent opportunity to prevent separation anxiety ever becoming an issue, teaching them how to play with puppies of all different sizes and personalities and to become confident in their own environment without you having to be there to hold their paw. The Puppy Playcare is held in a completely separate yard to the adult Daycare. We have toys, pools, a sand box and ball pit to stimulate your puppies senses and also to teach them to share and help prevent resource guarding in the future. Please call in advance to reserve your place.
At 16 weeks your puppy will Graduate to Intermediate Puppy Daycare. This is for pups 16 weeks – 24 weeks and is held on a Monday from 1pm – 4pm. Thursday from 8.30am – 11.30am and Friday from 12.30pm – 3.30pm.
Royal Puppy Class is a 4 week Training Class that you attend with your puppy on a designated Saturday from 9.30am -10.45am. The first 30 minutes are off leash play followed by 45 minutes of Training.
We advise all Puppy owners to try to attend both the Puppy Playcare Sessions and the Royal Puppy Class. The more socialization that your puppy receives before 16 weeks the less likely your dog will develop behavior issues as an adult dog. Woofingham Palace is the only Facility in the area that has a dedicated Puppy Socialization Program.
THE BIGGEST KILLER OF DOGS IN THE USA, THREE YEARS AND YOUNGER IS NOT DISEASES, BUT EUTHANIZATION IN SHELTERS.
THESE DOGS WERE NOT SOCIALIZED AS PUPPIES. THEY ARE THEN SURRENDERED TO THE SHELTER AND CANNOT BE REHOMED DUE TO SEVERE BEHAVIOR ISSUES.
Do not let that happen to your puppy today. Call us today 760 929 1996.