Few things are as fun as getting a new puppy!
Especially in this city, where we are so dog accessible, we have so many dog parks and facilities that offer services for our dogs.
Although, because of this there are a few things we need to do to help our puppies be able to handle going in to situations like these comfortably!
Many times, people get puppies and don’t see any need to do training classes. Which I can see the perspective behind, because maybe you want to teach your dog yourself! But even if that is the case, I urge everyone to take their puppy to their local puppy socialization classes.
We can do our very best to socialize our puppies to new surfaces, sounds, people & environments on our own, but we can’t always get that safe appropriate puppy play, without attending a socialization class. Puppy play is so important because it teaches our puppies something that we call bite inhibition. We want our puppies playing and communicating in play, so they can learn what is too rough, and what hurts their friends. This teaches them to be gentle with their mouths on their friends! It also helps our dogs to enjoy having doggy friends because they get to meet many different types of dogs with different personalities! We can’t always trust dogs that we meet on the street are dog friendly, and leash greetings are a tense situation even for a friendly dog. The option for our dogs to flee if startled or uncomfortable is taken away on that leash, so sometimes our dogs make mistakes on the leash because of this! I always suggest avoiding leash greetings unless you know the other dog is friendly, and that your dog will be comfortable in that situation. Socialization classes also help to ensure puppy gets to meet lots of fun people who will deliver yummy treats!
Let’s break things down even further though;
Why do we need our dogs meeting all sorts of people and dogs? Why do we need to socialize our dogs to new surfaces, sounds, environments etc.?
Our dogs go through what we call a socialization period, as well as two fear imprint periods.
First Fear Imprint Period: This starts when our puppies are very young. It goes from 8 to 12 weeks of age! During this time, puppies are more sensitive because they are learning what they need to be cautious of/what feels threatening to them! In this period, we want to avoid traumatic experiences. If something startles our dogs, we want to ensure we make the experience positive with lots of rewards and praise. To avoid things startling them, we want to slowly introduce them to life in short and positive sessions! Things that startle our dogs in this period can become life long fears, so we want to do our best to ensure traumatic experiences don’t happen, and if they do, we handle them in a positive way!
Socialization Period: this period goes until our dogs are 16 to 18 weeks old. This period is essentially when our dogs are sponges, they take everything in and much like during their fear imprint periods, we want to slowly introduce our dogs to real life things, in super positive rewarding ways! Let them check out a bike that isn’t moving, and eat treats off of it and while they interact with it, have joggers give your puppy treats, listen to the sound of the train and feed your puppy treats the whole time!
Second Fear Imprint Period: This period starts around 6 months, and goes until our dogs are around 14 months. Much like our first fear imprint period, dogs are more sensitive to everything because they are learning what they need to be cautious of, so try and avoid traumatic experiences, and make every new thing super positive for them.
This is another reason why we suggest using force free, positive training methods. Some harsher methods can startle our dogs and build negative associations even when that wasn’t the intention.
To ensure you can see what startles your pup, you will want to become very educated with dog body language and dog calming signals. Some great books on Socialization and Calming Signals are “ On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals” by Turid Rugaas & “Before and After You get Your Puppy” By Ian Dunbar.
Essentially, we want to ensure we stay educated and aware of the signals our dogs are giving us, so we can ensure we help them to have the most success with positive conditioning and socializing to this urban world we live in!
- Nadia Ansari, DCBC