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Bringing Home Puppy: Socialization

Proper socialization is important for the new Rally (or any!) puppy.

by Jamie McKay, CPDT-KSA

An adult dog's behavior is influenced both by genetics and the experiences they have during their first four months of life. Proper socialization during this critical period helps puppies develop into friendly, confident, resilient adults that are comfortable in a variety of situations. The so-called "socialization window" exists from approximately three weeks of age to 16 weeks. During this formative period, puppies experience the greatest amount of brain growth and are more accepting of new experiences. Incomplete or improper socialization during this important developmental phase can lead to dogs that tend to be fearful of unfamiliar people, dogs, sounds, objects, or environments.

Yet many veterinarians continue to advise clients against taking puppies anywhere prior to 16 weeks of age (the completion of inoculations). However, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has come out with a position statement that promotes the benefits of early socialization during the pre-inoculation period.

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior Position Statement on Puppy Socialization

Socialization is accomplished by exposing our puppies to the widest variety of experiences possible while ensuring that these experiences are positive for them. Variety is important, but it's equally important to create good associations with new people and experiences, so avoid forcing a puppy to remain in the proximity of something he is uncomfortable with.  

Observe how your pup acts when he encounters new people or things. Does he readily approach with head up, tail wagging softly, and a relaxed facial expression? If your pup turns away, freezes, ducks behind you, tucks his tail between his legs, or offers avoidance behaviors like sniffing or yawning, these are signs he is uncomfortable and needs to proceed at a slower pace. Learn to read your puppy's body language so you can accurately gauge his experience and adjust accordingly. Occasionally, pups will piddle a little in a new situation. This can be an indication of insecurity or stress, although sometimes it's simply excitement. Don't make a big deal about it.

Where you live will partially determine what things your new puppy will get a chance to be exposed to. Puppies raised in a rural setting will be exposed to things that puppies raised in an urban area will not and visa versa. Invite people over to meet your new pup. Bring him for car rides to a friend's home or to run errands. Bring treats and a toy with you. Many stores allow dogs inside. There is a reason they call them puppy magnets, so you will encounter many people who want to meet your puppy. Avoid places where puppies are sold, and, as much as possible, areas where dogs eliminate. 

Strive to have your puppy meet people of all ages, genders, varied ethnicities, and appearances such as wearing hats, hoods, glasses, beards, uniforms, and carrying umbrellas, walkers, suitcases, and canes, so that these differences are not novel to the dog when he is older and less willing to accept what he hasn't previously experienced. Encourage new people to gently pet the pup on the chest below the chin, avoiding the top of the head. Hand them a treat to offer to your pup but ask them to do so when your pup's paws are on the floor (i.e. sitting or standing not jumping).

If your pup appears anxious when meeting strangers, have them avoid direct eye contact and largely ignore the pup at fir


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