Puppy Training 101
What is puppy socialization and why is it important?
Socialization describes the process by which a dog parent creates positive associations for a puppy with the world around them during the early developmental stages of its life.
Early socialization is an important component of any foundational puppy training program because a puppy is most malleable between the age of 3 weeks to about 3-4 months of age and more likely to accept novel stimulus, or anything unknown or new, as normal and non-threatening during this time period.
Since the sensitive socialization window is relatively short, it’s essential to start safely introducing a young pup to a variety of environments, people, and dogs very early on to help it to adjust to its new life and to avoid the development of fear or guarding-based behavior problems as the puppy grows older.
This is especially true when living in a city like Los Angeles where a puppy is likely to encounter a variety of ethnicities of people, breeds of dogs, and changing environments, as well as an array of loud moving objects such as skateboarders and motorcyclists, on a regular basis.
How To Safely Socialize A Puppy
My puppy hasn’t had all of its shots, so how do I socialize them?
Veterinarians will tell you not to take a puppy outside for walks until it has had all of its shots, yet research shows that puppies that have not been socialized during the critical, early socialization window of 3 weeks to 3-4 months have a tendency to be nervous in new environments and develop fear or guarding aggression towards people and other dogs.
So how does a puppy parent manage to socialize their puppy during this critical time period when it will most readily accept new experiences before its too late? The truth is that you are not likely to expose your puppy to communicable illnesses unless you take them to a place where there is a likelihood of infection.
Avoid Places Where There Is Risk Of Infection
Kennel cough is mostly like to be caught by being in a kennel (thus the name) or daycare. Canine Distemper and Parvo can be transmitted via contact with other dogs, wild animals or contaminated objects, so it's best to avoid grassy areas where lots of dogs congregate or places where nocturnal animals or raccoons might call home.
You definitely don't want to let your puppy inspect and sniff around where another dog has relieved themselves where there is a high risk of infection, so the main places to avoid are anywhere people regularly take their dogs to socialize like dog parks, parks, and hiking trails.
Ensure a puppy has fun while having new experiences
The main thing to keep in mind while introducing a puppy to anyone or anything new is to ensure a puppy is having a positive experience.
Since eating food has a calming effect on dogs, it's a good idea to have treats on hands to help create positive associations for a puppy and to calm it down if it seems nervous when introducing it to something new.
You must also watch a puppy's body language to gauge how it feels about the experiences it is having. Keep an eye out for the puppy showing signs of discomfort such as a tucked tail, ears pinned back, shaking, or attempts to hide.
Sometimes, a puppy is having fun but starts to get overwhelmed, so make sure to give a puppy a break from being handled or played with if they show any signs of discomfort!
Puppy Parties, Puppy Picnics, Walking Malls & Errand Runs
Here are some ways to safely socialize a young puppy that involve inviting people to your home, bringing them places while you carry them, or taking them somewhere they can be allowed to walk around where there's little risk of infection.
Invite People Over To Meet Your Puppy
A great way to introduce your puppy to a variety of people is by inviting friends, neighbors and family members over to meet your furry bundle of joy in the safety of your home.
Ask each guest to gently play with your puppy with its favorite toy and to pick it up and handle it so that it gets used to their voice, scent, and look.
As an extra precaution, you can ask your guests to take their shoes off when they enter to avoid tracking anything on their shoes through the house.
Carry Your Puppy Places
There are lots of places where you can carry your puppy where it can meet other people and where there’s little to no risk of exposing them to communicable diseases. Some examples are:
- Walking malls
- Grocery stores with outdoor seating
- Hardware stores
- The post office
Walking malls tend to power wash the premises on a daily basis so there’s little to no risk of exposing a puppy to a virus or bacteria that is bad for dogs at one.
Taking your puppy to a grocery store with outdoor seating is also a very low-risk setting where you are unlikely to expose it to any form of contamination.
Many stores like Home Depot will let you bring your puppy inside where you can push it around inside a shopping cart and allow it to get fawned over by fellow shoppers.
Lastly, you’re sure to be a hit standing in line with a puppy in your arms at the post office, another spot where you are unlikely to come across any communicable diseases and will meet a variety of people.
You can take your puppy to the park if you keep it on a leash and bring a big blanket or two to sit on. Simply pack a picnic and your puppy’s lunch and feed your puppy at the park while sitting on the blanket and watch the world go by.
This a great way to get your puppy accustomed to bikers, joggers, and an array of sights and sounds. It's a good idea to stash the blankets in a bag for the transport home and wash them afterward for safe measure!
Puppy Socialization Classes
This gives a puppy a chance to learn to read canine communication signals and learn boundaries from other puppies, as well as providing much-needed playtime with their own species.
Don’t wait to socialize your puppy
Waiting to socialize a puppy until it has all of its rounds of shots can have serious consequences when you live in a city.
The chances of a puppy becoming fearful or aggressive towards people and other dogs skyrockets if you miss the early socialization window.
It’s a good idea to ask your vet what diseases your puppy is at risk for and where they are likely to come across them to get a better idea of how you can safely socialize your puppy.
If you’d like more information on the communicable diseases your puppy is at risk for, please visit the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website at www.avma.org.
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Los Angeles dog trainer Alexandra Bassett is the owner of Dog Savvy Los Angeles, a positive dog and puppy training company based in Los Angeles. She has been training dogs professionally for over 3 years and specializes in solving problem dog behavior like canine separation anxiety and leash reactivity. She especially enjoys teaching new dog parents how to train a puppy and is available for free consultations.