Early Puppy Socialization is Critical

Whew!  My husband and I have just successfully emerged from the first couple of months of raising a new puppy.  Things are starting to settle down now.  Our puppy is very enjoyable, but of course, there are some exasperating and humbling moments, even for a professional dog trainer!  Our puppy seems intent on pointing out the things we overlooked in our puppy-proofing and supervision (such as the  closet door left ajar leaving shoes at risk, or the accessible i-pod cord which didn’t fare very well).  The puppy is also making us aware of things we have inadvertently trained him to do.  We rewarded these behaviors with our attention and did not teach or provide an alternative appropriate behavior.  While it was sort of cute to see him running into the living room from the bathroom with the toilet paper roll still attached,  we eventually had to put a stop to his little game by using better management to prevent his practice of this behavior.
It is second nature for me as a dog trainer to understand why my puppy is engaging in these behaviors and know how to successfully redirect his energy and set him up for success, but I certainly understand how dog owners can get frustrated with their dog’s behavior.  It would be very trying if we did not know how to handle the puppy “shenanigans “ appropriately or have the available knowledge, experience,  resources and training tools at our disposal.  For dog owners, the value of becoming involved in a puppy class taught by an instructor knowledgeable in puppy behavior is not to be underestimated, to assist with integrating the new puppy into the home.
By far, the most difficult thing about having a new puppy in our home is the time investment required to do things right.  The puppy’s first few months (prior to 16 weeks of age) are critical for shaping his future temperament or the way he will relate to people, other dogs and his environment.  Making sure the puppy is well socialized is vital, and there is a limited time during which this can be accomplished within the puppy’s developmental timeline.  If you miss out on socializing your puppy during this period, you will not be able to go back and reverse this, or catch up on it later.  As a professional dog trainer who specializes in behavioral issues such as fear, aggression and reactivity, I am saddened when I hear clients tell me that their puppy was not provided with adequate socialization experiences because of conflicts with schedules, activities or holidays taken during the critical window for puppy socialization.  Behavioral issues /problems are the number one reason that dogs end up being euthanized, and many behavioral issues can be prevented or at least minimized with appropriate early socialization experiences.
Based on this knowledge, we are taking our responsibility to provide appropriate early socialization experiences for our puppy very seriously.  Although time consuming, this is a lot of fun!  We make time daily for special trips to various locations and participate in different activities for the sole purpose of puppy socialization.  We have an ongoing checklist going to make sure we are exposing the puppy to various types of handling, sights, sounds, locations, situations, experiences, people, other animals, etc.  It is not enough to think that our own children or housemate dog can provide adequate socialization for our puppies.  They need to meet as many different types of people and dogs of varying descriptions as possible.  In fact, Dr. Ian Dunbar, a world renowned dog trainer, behaviorist, and veterinarian recommends ensuring that your puppy meets at least 100 strangers before reaching 12 weeks of age!  A well run puppy socialization class can help you provide your dog with safe, controlled exposures to other dogs and people.   I, myself, attend as many of these classes as I can, even though I am very familiar with the material.
If you are going to bring a new puppy into your family, please be prepared to provide your puppy with early positive socialization experiences, and to make this an important priority. It is well worth the initial time investment to ensure that your puppy will be well adjusted, confident, and prepared to adapt to the challenges of everyday life.


Cheryl Wittevrongel


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