A Guide to Puppy Socialization


As you know, dogs socialize differently than we do. They rely heavily on their sense of smell and body language, as well as some vocalization. Socialization begins as early as a week old. Then, the puppy has to be kept from many other dogs while he's getting his rounds of vaccines. Most puppies who have been socialized since birth will have a well-developed communication system in place. But while some are still in adolescence, especially the large breeds, you may see some awkwardness amongst friends and new introductions.

A puppy who was well-socialized may suddenly show signs of fear, fear-aggression, aggression or extreme submission. Or, your puppy may just now be getting exposed to other dogs on walks, in daycare or at dog parks. The trick is to introduce your puppy to a few dogs slowly and then up the ante. If you have no choice but to stick an awkward puppy in a place crowded with other dogs, there are still a few things you can do.

Small Groups

1. Play Dates - Find a friend who has a dog of a similar size to yours. At this point, asking a shy Yorkie to play with a Great Dane isn't advisable. Make sure your friend's pup is dog-friendly. It also helps if he is playful, calm and secure. Likely you'll find your Yorkie ends up following him around and taking communication cues from him.

2. Walking - Dogs on leash are in a different place than dogs off leash. Be certain that you ask any other dog owner before you introduce your puppy to his. Scope out the other puppy's demeanor - is he relaxed? Does the owner have control? Try to introduce them with a slight slack on the leash but with your hand forward on it so you can pull back if necessary.

3. Dog Parks - Find a time when the dog park is almost empty. Scan the dogs in the park before entering and note their size, their breed or mix, and how they're interacting with each other. If any are showing signs of aggression, pass it up. Also pass it up if the owners aren't watching their dogs. Keep a short lead, about a foot long, on your puppy so you can grab him easily if there is any trouble.

Large Groups

1. Daycare - Make certain there is someone on hand watching the dogs at all times. There should be no more than ten dogs per person. If possible, talk to the person ahead of time so that you'll feel secure with her credentials. Check for places that your puppy can get up onto or under, such as small tables or benches. This way, he has somewhere to escape to if the crowd gets too rough.

2. Boarding - It's possible, of course, to board your puppy without any contact with other dogs but most kennels offer playtime during your absence. If you're boarding more than one dog, ask that they be in different groups. It's possible that together, one may become the protector and cause problems. Also ask that no more than five dogs be in the group, at least at the start.

3. Dog Parks - If you're tired of going to the dog park at 6:00 am to avoid most of the dogs, prepare your pup a bit before hitting the noontime rush. Let your puppy stand and sniff for a while outside of the park and bring him in slowly. However, you're better off letting him go once you get inside. Crowded dog parks can be chaotic so it's especially important to know where your dog is all times. For added safety, follow him around.

Aggression and the like can be controlled with proper training but never introduce your puppy to others if you are uncertain of what his reaction may be. Some breeds, such as the Pit Bull, can be dog aggressive and are usually best kept out of multi-dog situations.

Learn about dog body language. Consider getting a concise book with pictures that you can carry with you so you can catch any problems immediately. Remember, it is not uncouth to correct another person's dog as long as you do it gently, positively and efficiently. Tools such as a spray bottle or a citrus sprayer can be effective in multi-dog situations as are sound blowers. Even if the dogs are behaving well, you can use it to get an errant dog owner's attention or cut off an annoying conversation.

Photo: Soggydan

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