The Importance of Socializing Your Puppy With Other Dogs
In the accompanying video I talk about the importance of socializing your puppy. Although I recommend waiting until your puppy is fully vaccinated before taking him or her to places like dog parks or other places where they might encounter an unvaccinated dog, it is important to start getting your puppy used to as many types of people and situations as possible.
In the video I’m at Alameda Park in Santa Barbara with Shiloh, a five-month old golden retriever I’ve been working with since he was 10 weeks old. Initially, our work was confined to home-training, helping Shiloh and his family address issues like housebreaking, chewing, jumping, and how to get along peaceably with the family cat.
Once Shiloh turned 16 weeks old, he transferred into my VIP training program—meaning he comes to Loose Pooch doggie daycare four times a week, learning to get along with other dogs, and I take him out on State Street and here to the park to get used to many other everyday situations.
Proper socialization is very important for young puppies. They need to learn how to behave properly both around other dogs and other humans. In my experience, the number one cause of dog aggression begins at this age, when a puppy invades an older dog’s space and gets sharply corrected by the older dog. As the dog ages, the puppy generalizes this response to all other dogs, or all other dogs of the breed that has previously corrected him. This is one of the reasons I recommend making sure your puppy stays with his or her litter for at least seven weeks. That way, you know the puppy has learned many aspects of dog etiquette from his mother and siblings and has gained the identity of a dog.
Then from eight to 16-weeks it’s important to socialize your dog around his new family, acquire house manners, and become introduced to friends and visitors, including those with dogs that you know are vaccinated. Once the dog is 16 weeks and fully vaccinated you can consider socializing your dog at daycare or, if you don’t have access to doggie daycare, you can try the dog park.
However, at the dog park, remember that not all owners are paying attention, so you will have to be the one who steps in, if it looks as if your dog might be getting into trouble. I would not let a 16-week puppy loose to chase a ball with five other dogs, for example.
One technique for controlling your puppy is simply to leave her leash on. Dragging the leash will slow her down a little bit, plus it will make it easier for you to intervene and slow her down, or pull her out of the way, if she’s being too intrusive. Please remember to only leave a leash on the dog when the dog is being supervised.
I always tell my clients that, if you’re not sure of another dog you’re approaching to stay at least 10 feet away. I’ve trained aggressive versions of virtually every dog you’re likely to see in the park, so you can’t safely generalize by breed. If you do want your puppy to be able to approach the strange dog, ask the owner if their dog is friendly with puppies. That’s because, a dog who’s good with other dogs is not necessarily good with out-of-control puppies.
One of the benefits of socializing your puppy in an environment like doggie daycare is that your puppy learns to pace himself. When you go to the park, or to an obedience class, the dog is typically around other dogs for only an hour—a rambunctious hour. If the dog is at daycare all day, he learns to play for a while and then chill out, take a nap. He doesn’t explode with energy, inviting another dog to correct him.
Finally, it’s very important to expose your dog to as many people and situations as possible so that they no longer are new or frightening. The reason I work with dogs on busy city streets and in the park is because of all the distractions—children running and shrieking, kids on skateboards, people on crutches or in wheelchairs, and on this particular day, we also had street sweepers, garbage trucks, and tree trimmers. Although Shiloh became worried and whimpered on a couple of occasions—particularly in response to the tree-trimmers—you’ll see that, all in all, he did very well. I kept him far enough away that he didn’t feel the need to become aggressive in response to these new experiences.
If the dog does bark or react aggressively to certain types of people or situations, I first give the dog a firm, quick snap of the leash and tell him “No.” Then I walk the dog around the person or situation, from a safe, 10-foot distance, so that he can see it from all angles, over and over, until he eventually relaxes and accepts the situation as normal.
Expect more from your dog! Enjoy more from your dog!
Unleash your dog’s full potential—and your own.
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