By Siddh Trivedi*
Socialization is crucial to ensure that a puppy grows up to be a happy, confident, and friendly adult dog. It is a very important aspect of puppy parenting.
The term ‘socialization’ broadly implies everything that a dog experiences in its daily life. These include interactions with different people of different skin colour, appearances, etc., different surfaces that it walks/runs on – grass, stone, tiles, etc., other dogs & animals it interacts with, different sounds it hears, etc. It takes place throughout a dog’s life.
Socialization must be done in the correct manner, which has been discussed below:
1. What socialization is not
Normally, for socialization, people take their dogs/puppies to places where they meet other dogs, and all of them are left unsupervised to play.
I don’t recommend this activity at all as it can lead to dirty fights! You have no control over how well trained or socialized the other dogs are. Also, sometimes other dog owners themselves are unaware that their dog is capable of biting or attacking until it actually does so. This is a potentially dangerous & unpleasant situation for your puppy, and can damage its perception of other dogs.
2. When should you start socialization?
The right age to start socialization activities for your puppies is when it has been given the first vaccination dose. It is very important to start socialization for a puppy during the critical window of 3 weeks to 3 months of age.
Socialization is an ongoing process throughout a dog’s life. As per my experience, one should give extra attention to social interaction till 1 year of age right up to early adolescence.
Puppies are innately curious, love to explore, and are very receptive too. The perceptions they develop at this age remain with them forever, and can take more time & extra dedication to change later.
3.How to engage in socialization
Initially, we must ensure that the puppy has only positive experiences while socializing. Take it to places and introduce it to people, places, other dogs, etc., whom you are familiar with.
Avoid unknown places where the puppy is likely to get bullied by other dogs or places where children crowd around the puppy, make too much noise, touch it too much, carry it and drop it etc. Such experiences can teach the puppy that strangers and other animals are dangerous, which will make it react aggressively to them as adult dogs.
4. Socialization with children
Explain to children how to behave around the puppy. Don’t allow them to touch/play roughly or carry it. Also, keep the puppy away from people who are scared of dogs and those who are likely to scream, shout, and climb on top of furniture when they see it. This can be traumatic for your puppy too.
Give children a few treats to feed to the puppy, as this will add fun to their daily routine. A puppy that enjoys fun and games with children grows up to love their company and becomes happy upon seeing them.
5. Socialization with other dogs
When you arrange for socialization with other puppies, observe their interaction closely and insist on the parent of other puppy to be present. Most importantly, ensure that other puppies are of similar ages, sizes, and are well-behaved. Slowly, you can introduce your puppy to different kinds of breeds of different sizes and different ages.
Toss them a few treats while they are enjoying themselves to add an element of surprise.
6. The Correct Way to Greet a Puppy
When people see your puppy, they get excited and reach out to pet its head. Nobody bothers about what the puppy might feel.
Since your puppy is small and is used to being protected by you, the prospect of a human being who is much larger than it coming close to it or petting on its head can be very frightening. In the wild, this is a sign of attack by a larger animal.
Also, if the puppy is being carried by its owner and someone comes to pet it, it has no means of escaping even if it wants to. In both situations, the puppy might develop aggression towards strangers and start biting them.
How to avoid this? Discourage people who are meeting the puppy for the first time from touching it right away. Advise them to sit down at a distance from the puppy. The puppy will go to them as and when it is comfortable. You can also give your friend a treat to gain the puppy’s trust.
7. How to handle stray dogs amicably
When you take your puppy for a walk, do stray dogs start barking at you and following you? This is because they feel threatened with new entrants in their territory.
In such situations, avoid throwing stones or brandishing sticks at strays. Doing so will reinforce belief of strays that you are a threat to them. It is a good idea to keep a stick with you in case they get too close, but don’t use it unless absolutely necessary.
Instead, keep calm, stop in one place, make your puppy sit, and reward him with treats when he maintains this position. Ignore strays completely. This will teach your puppy to react calmly when strays are barking. It also sends across a message to strays that they should not perceive you as a threat.
If you brandish sticks at strays and throw stones at them, you are teaching your puppy that they are a threat. As an adult dog, it will get into fights with strays.
8. Taking your dog to a vet
Most dogs are scared or apprehensive when they reach the waiting area of a vet. They anticipate being touched and restrained by strangers as well as being poked by needles or made to swallow tablets.
How do you make vet visits a positive experience? While waiting in the waiting area and when the vet is handling him, you can hand it some treats and play together. You can also offer it a familiar toy.
9. How to Handle Over-Reactive Dogs
Dogs that haven’t been socialized at the right age tend to be very sensitive to small as well as big stimulus in their surroundings. If you notice this behaviour in your dog, distract it with its favourite toy or a treat. This way, they will learn to keep their attention on you. Slowly, you can desensitize them by taking them close to the stimulus or bringing it near them. You will notice that they are learning to ignore it with time.
Also, if your adult dog hasn’t been socialized as a puppy, it is a good idea to put on a muzzle while introducing it to other dogs & people. If the situation is beyond your control, it is always a good idea to consult a dog behaviour specialist who can help you and your dog.
10. Health Concerns
You can safely start socialization after your puppy has received the first vaccination dose. If you wait till the puppy completes the entire course, you risk missing the socialization window. In my experience of over a decade, I have come across very few cases of puppies contracting infections from other dogs. On the other hand, I have come across various dogs with serious behavioural issues due to lack of socializations at right age. You can always discuss with your vet about possible health concerns, so that your puppy can derive the maximum benefit from socialization as well as remain safe.
Socialization happens everywhere – at home as well as outside. Seemingly,a normal situation such as puppy’s first car ride is a new experience that creates an opportunity for socialization.
Always keep an eye on your puppy for any signs of nervousness. This includes licking the nose, putting its tail between its legs, hiding under furniture, etc. In case your fido is nervous, take it away from that situation and give it time to get comfortable. Once it comes round, you can introduce it to that stimulus again.
Socialization is a highly neglected aspect of puppy training, especially in India. Many people don’t give it its due importance. They don’t realize that it is very important to ensure that a dog doesn’t grow up to be aggressive or nervous.
After all, puppy rearing is not as simple as providing two meals and a place to sleep. It involves a lot of attention and dedication at least for the first one and a half years.
I hope this article will guide you to make your puppy grow into a Confident and friendly fido.
*Author is an animal trainer and behaviour specialist. He has over a decade of experience in training dogs of all ages and different breeds, as well as deep understanding of their behavioural patterns.He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org