Your Puppy’s First Week Home, Part One
One of the most important things you can teach your puppy is that the world is a safe, fun, and amazing place. No one wants their new friend to be scared when they experience something new. We want them to be confident, and if at times they experience some insecurity, we want them to turn to us for guidance. The pup’s mother starts the process of socialization, the breeder continues it, and once the puppy is home with you it’s your job to carry on with good socialization. If you do the work to properly socialize your puppy, they will grow into a confident and outgoing adult.
The moment your puppy is born they begin learning. By playing with their litter mates they become aware of their surroundings and develop their senses and physical abilities, as well as learn about the hierarchy process, bite inhibition, and communicating amongst themselves. Human interaction is just as vital to the socialization process. Without proper handling and introductions a puppy can have great difficulty forming relationships with people in the future.
Many people see a fearful and/or aggressive dog and immediately think the dog was abused at some point. While this is sometimes true, improper socialization can also lead to this type of fearful dog. Developmental stages are very important. Understanding what your puppy is experiencing during each stage can help you better prepare for training and socialization.
From three to seven weeks old, puppies begin to learn how to be a dog. They learn specific behaviors and communication methods, such as body postures, from their mother and littermates through playful chasing, biting, barking, and wrestling. This is the ultimate time to introduce loud noises, different types of surfaces, and strange objects. Pups are curious, brave, and eager to solve problems.
During the next developmental stage, eight to 10 weeks, a puppy experiences it’s first fear period. This coincides with the time young pups, in the wild, begin to explore their new world outside the safety of their den. Mother has taught them well, and they are aware of certain dangers that exist. Without caution, they could end up dead.
While you shouldn’t stop your work on socialization during this time, introductions should be made carefully and tactfully. Everyday objects can cause a pup to feel real fear and can permanently affect the rest of their life. Everything should be kept positive and exciting. During this time, don’t assume your puppy will be eager to meet every person, go to every place, or approach every object. If you observe hesitation, encourage the puppy in an exciting and positive way with treats and enthusiastic vocal praise. Take it slow. Make progress over time but don’t rush an introduction.
For example, to introduce a puppy to a noisy air purifier in your home, first turn the machine off. Sit next to the air purifier and call the puppy to you. Give him treats and praise. Place treats around the machine, or even on it, and encourage the puppy to eat them. The next step can be immediately after the first, or it could be the next day depending on how your pup did with the initial introduction. Next you should place your puppy in another room while you turn the machine on a very low setting. Get your puppy and return to the room with the air purifier, but remain a great distance away. Place your puppy on the ground and give him a treat. Sit on the floor next to him and scoot a bit closer to the air purifier. As the puppy follows you, give him a treat and a lot of encouraging praise. Continue getting closer and closer to the machine and rewarding your pup for following you. The moment you sense hesitation from your puppy, stop. Scoot back to the previous position and reward your puppy. You can try scooting closer again, or wait until tomorrow. Be very observant of your pup’s behavior. Be on the lookout for cowering, tail tucking, his ears being down, lip licking, or yawning. If you see these behaviors, back up a step and then proceed. Some stress is ok, and even good for a puppy, but you shouldn’t flood the puppy with a spooky experience. Give them the chance to make the decision to be brave and take a step forward. Then reward like crazy. Once you have gotten all the way to the noisy machine, back all the way back up and repeat the above steps with the machine turned on a higher setting.
While socializing your puppy, his health should be first and foremost in your mind. Remember, taking your young pup (who hasn’t yet received all of his shots) to the local pet store or dog park isn’t the best idea. Think about it. Were you required to show shot records or verify your puppy didn’t come from a litter that had experienced a potentially deadly disease such as parvo or distemper? No, and that means that no one else was required to do that either. You are exposing your puppy to an environment that potentially could have dangerous diseases that can affect their health. Don’t do it. Your puppy isn’t losing anything by not getting to run amuck with others at the park, and they can still gain the vital socialization needed to become well-rounded dogs through other options such as these:
- Have everyone in your home interact with the dog.
- Invite friends and family, and their safe, friendly, and healthy pets to a meet and greet at your home. Follow the puppy introduction guidelines in this post.
- Take your puppy to as many safe places as possible. But keep the safety guidelines in mind. You will have to take your puppy to the vet for their shots, but you don’t have to let other patrons pet your puppy, or place your puppy on the floor at the office. You should even go as far as to carry the puppy from your car into the office, and never set him down. If you don’t already know about parvo, trust me, you don’t want to learn about it.
- Introduce your puppy to as many different animals, objects, and situations as possible. Don’t forget to work with objects such as nail clippers and a dog brush! Again, keep safety in mind and find healthy animals for introductions, and keep your puppy in safe locations.
There are tons of ways to make socialization fun for your pets. The possibilities are endless. Here are a few examples.
- Give everyone in your family a different treat and have them sit in a circle on the floor. Place your puppy in the center and let each person call him, and pick him up or handle him in some way, then reward him with a treat and place him back in the center of the circle. The next person should call the puppy and handle him in a different way, then reward and place him back in the circle. It’s very important for pups to learn that being handled in different ways is ok, as well. Some examples of ways to handle a puppy are to hold him on his back in your arms, to hold a front paw in the air, to hold him in your lap and lightly squeeze an arm or leg, to carefully open their mouths, to examine their ears, etc. Think of situations the puppy might find himself in that would require him to be comfortable with different types of handling.
- Place an object on the floor and a curious puppy is going to go straight to it. When they do, use a clicker to mark that behavior and then give them a treat. The puppy is likely to go back to that object because it landed him a delicious reward. When he does, click and treat again! Move away from the object, further and further as the puppy successfully go to and touches the object, to make the game more difficult. The puppy will be so excited that he figured out when he goes to that strange object treats come, that he won’t be as hesitant to approach a new object when the game changes the next day. This is also a great way to start work on recall.
- If you find your puppy in a particularly difficult situation but you have an adult dog that already knows everything is ok, you can let them work through it together. Make sure the adult dog and your puppy have bonded first, then, let the older dog approach the scary object first. Place the puppy on the ground and see what happens. If he walks towards the scary object and the adult dog, praise him and give him treats! We know a lot about canine communication, but we can’t compete with nature. An adult dog will be able to communicate whether or not the situation is dangerous much more effectively than any human.
Handling Techniques for Socialization:
During socialization, your puppy needs to meet several new dogs and people (including children) a week. Just because you have kids and one other pet doesn’t mean your new puppy will get what he needs. It takes a lot of effort, but the work will pay off. Don’t miss out on the opportunity, as the window of time for socialization will close around 16 weeks of age. You want your dog to be a part of your every day life, and a member of your family. Spend time now, working with your puppy, so that he becomes a well-rounded and happy member of the family.