You’ve got a brand new puppy. It’s exciting, exhausting and a full time job. On top of it all, all of a sudden everyone in your life is an expert on dogs and shares their opinions on what you need to do, and how to do it, whether you want to hear it or not.
It’s a lot. Navigating how to raise your puppy can be confusing.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour position statement on Puppy Socialization states that “the primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life”.
That’s a ton of pressure, but for good reason. Puppies have this small window of opportunity during this age where sociability outweighs fear. In my puppy classes, I call this a “window of opportunity” that we have to capitalize on in a safe manner before that window shuts forever. We want our puppies to have safe experiences with people, places, surfaces, noises, and dogs before they revert back to their default setting of fear.
Fear is a natural response in animals, one that has been biologically perfected and ultimately dictates if a species survives. Fearing novelty keeps animals safe. Just like how we humans are preprogrammed to be scared of big things with sharp teeth. I have never had a bad experience with a shark, but I fear them. The fear that keeps me safe from wanting to go swimming with them, is something that has been passed down and perfected genetically throughout thousands of years. Naturally fearing big things with sharp teeth has kept us humans safe, and helped us survive as a species.
For puppies, it’s so important to capitalize on this window of opportunity. We want to safely expose our puppies to novelty and pair those events with food, play and praise to ensure a positive association has been made. Simply exposing your puppy without adding food, or praise and play risks leaving the association your dog makes to chance where they might decide that experience was uncomfortable. A neutral or negative experience just won’t cut it. Proper socialization takes preparation, planning and action- exposure is not enough.
Wondering what your puppy needs to experience and see? We’ve created a downloadable checklist for all puppy parents to help.
It’s a balancing act
We also know that we need to protect our young dogs from disease and illness, especially before being fully vaccinated. The regular vaccination protocol generally means puppies are around 14-16 weeks of age before they are fully protected.
While it might seem reasonable to keep them at home until they are fully vaccinated this risks long-term behaviour issues later in life. If your puppy doesn’t see and experience certain things on our checklist before that window of opportunity closes, there is a much higher chance of your dog developing fear, reactivity and aggression when they reach social maturity around 2 years of age.
Now, this doesn’t mean that careful consideration shouldn’t be taken with your puppy who is not fully immunized, but there are ways to balance the risk.
Some things to do:
- Invite friends & family over
- Introduce your puppy to adult dogs that are fully vaccinated, healthy and like puppies (FYI its very normal for adult dogs not to enjoy puppies. Pick adult dogs that have a good history of enjoying puppies)
- Sign up for a well-run puppy class. Ensure strict cleaning protocols are followed and that they require PROOF that your puppy has had their first set of vaccinations a minimum of 7 days prior to class starting along with a health check from your vet
- Take your puppy out in a stroller or backpack to ensure they are not missing out on important experiences
Some things to avoid:
- High-traffic dog areas. Stay clear of dog parks, unknown dogs and high traffic dog areas until your puppy is fully immunized
- Unknown off-leash dogs
- Busy areas that may overwhelm your puppy
- Dog daycares and group dog walkers. Your puppy needs to be fully immunized for these services, and if a provider doesn’t require or ask, take that as a red flag and look elsewhere
The good news is there are many knowledgeable puppy trainers to help you navigate raising your puppy and ensuring you are making the most of this important stage of development. Be sure to vet your trainer and look for trainers with credentials who advocate for science-based, positive reinforcement training methods.
Saundra is always happy to chat. Reach out anytime!