One of the most important things for new puppies is to learn about their new environment and the people and things in it. This is more critical than commands or obedience when you first bring a puppy home.
Ideally, a puppy should meet 100 people before he is 12 weeks old. That way, youngsters see big and small folks, old and young ones, people in hats and with beards, and different skin tones, etc. The more the young puppy sees, the more he or she will easily adapt. The same goes for sounds and objects. Expose puppies to skateboards, sirens, bikes, and children playing. Puppies will take it all in as part of their new world.
People, Places, Things, and Noises
A good way to think about this is that you want your puppy to learn about everything that he or she will be exposed to as soon as possible. Young puppies don’t even know to fear anything until they are about 12 weeks old. So everything they see will be interesting and fun and not scary. But, for instance, if a puppy never sees anything on wheels (e.g., skateboards, bikes, wheelchairs) until he or she is several months old, these things will surprise and scare him or her.
If you are adopting an older dog, you want to do these intros as soon as possible as well. For the first two months or so, the new dog is a bit in shock and just trying to figure out the new living situation. So it’s important that you show these dogs as much as possible while they are open to it. Once they get settled in, new places, people, and things could be seen as frightening.
Allowing your new puppy or dog to hear noises that will occur at some point in their lives is also important.
Do you have thunderstorms? Fireworks? Loud music? A new baby coming? Let your furry family member hear it, and make it fun. You can find recordings on line if needed. Celebrate when you hear these sounds: That’s the time for treats and toys.
Don’t act like you’re worried your fur baby will be scared, or you will be signaling him or her to be scared. Learn more on how to help your dog with noise desensitization at PoochCoach.com.
So, think about what you want to do with your dog, and where you want to go, and start doing these things right away, and your dog will take it all in as “the norm.”
Dangers of Not Socializing
If a dog does not get exposed to these various things, then the dog will most likely become fearful. If this occurs, get help for the dog, even if it means hiring a professional. You don’t want your dog to be needlessly stressed. Just like with people, stress is unpleasant and can lead to sickness. But, even more importantly, what most people do not realize is that their adorable, sweet, shy dog will mostly likely turn from being fearful to aggressive toward these things.
That’s why dogs lunge at motorcycles and skateboards, bark (or try to bite!) people coming into their home, or angrily bark at other dogs on walks.
It’s all because they didn’t see enough of these things early on. The discomfort may eventually turn into a growl or a bark. They quickly learn that the bark works—the postman walks away from the house; the bike zooms off; the person jumps back in surprise; the other dog and owner give you a wide berth. The aggression has begun and now will only get worse if you do not address it.
Speaking as someone who works on these issues daily, it’s much easier to work with a scared dog than an aggressive one. And there’s also a large amount of stress for the families dealing with aggressive dogs as they try to be hyper-vigilant attempting to avoid their dog’s triggers.
So, help decrease stress for everyone involved and get some help. There is nothing that a dog can’t get used to with enough help and guidance.
Above All, Be Safe
You need to be careful with a puppy until he has all three of his first vaccinations, especially if you’re in an area that is prone to the various diseases, in particular Parvo, which can be deadly.
That said, some people are told by their vets to keep their dogs inside and not meet other dogs until they have all their shots, including rabies, so they don’t exposed to the outdoors, or even to being on a leash, until they are 4 months old. This is horrible for the socialization aspect of their development.
So, here’s what to do: Puppies can and do start learning the second they walk in your door. You can start leash training them in your house and introducing them to people there as well. If outside, just be careful when walking your dog on a leash to keep him away from trees and grass where other dogs have gone to the bathroom and there may more likelihood of disease.
Ironically, your pup is more likely to catch something going to your vet’s office (where there are tons of germs and sick dogs around!) than walking in front of your house. And your dog is not going to get rabies by walking in your neighborhood either. There hasn’t even been a case of rabies in the Bay Area for over 100 years.
There are many puppy socialization groups and playgroups in most cities as well. You just need proof of the first and second rounds of shots to get in.
If you’re worried about a particular area, just carry your dog and let him or her see and smell the air of the area. I make sure to “walk” my new puppies around dog parks—in my arms. That way, when they finally can safely walk around, they aren’t afraid; in fact, they tend to be raring to go.
Just like you would not keep your child indoors and alone for the first several years of this life, your puppy cannot and should be isolated for his first several weeks or months with you. Dozens of behavior problems can occur due to under-socialization of a puppy—ones that take much time and expense to fix.
Avoid the problems upfront and teach your pup confidence and social skills as soon as you get him.
Make sure you handle your dog all over his or her body so that there are no parts on the body where he or she isn’t comfortable being touched. You need to be able to take things out of their mouths, touch their paws (for clipping, but also for removing foxtails or burrs, etc) and their ears, etc. You want them to be comfortable with you as well as with strangers.
Vets, dog sitters/walkers, and groomers will need to be able to handle them, too. You also need to introduce grooming, such as baths, nail clipping, brushing, and teeth brushing. Start slowly if he or she is an older dog, just in case he or she has any bad prior experiences.
Taking these suggestions into account for puppies and newly homed adults should put you both on a successful path with few bumps. So get going.
Beverly Ulbrich, “The Pooch Coach,” has been providing expert private dog training and behavioral modification to the SF Bay Area for many years. Seen frequently on TV for her expertise in all things dog related, she also works behind the scenes with dogs for TV, advertising, and movies. Her specialties include dog aggression, fear, and anxiety. Her motto is “Any Dog. Any Problem.” Find out more at PoochCoach.com. You can also find The Pooch Coach videos on YouTube.
Main article photo by: Photo of Musik courtesy Beverly Ulbrich