Socialization is not just about exposing your pup to the world, it is also about insuring that your pup has POSITIVE exposure to the world.
Plop a toddler down on the floor in the middle of 6 rambunctious, barking, jumping dogs and the kid will love dogs, right? Wrong. The kid will likely get scared and it will be harder the next time a dog is in the picture to convince the toddler to interact or worse you may create a serious fear of dogs.
Pups are no different. Allowing a pup to interact with people and other dogs without being restrained (held, kept on tight leash, in a corner etc) is vitally important. I cannot imagine how terrifying it must be to be tethered or held while something new and scary comes toward you and touches you! Yikes! Puppies should be allowed to approach new people and things on their own and given the freedom to back away if they feel threatened. This is how they build confidence, by feeling in control of their own safety.
1. Keep leash loose so pup can advance/ retreat as needed.
2. Do not hold a puppy up to a person or hand a puppy to someone he/ she doesn't know.
3. Don't be in a rush. Dragging a puppy through a doorway into a new space or picking up a hesitant pup to move him toward what he is worried about is not going to help him meet that environmental challenge with confidence next time.
Your goal should always be that your puppy ENJOYS a new interaction, not just tolerates it. If pup is overwhelmed, move to a quieter spot and give her time to recover before moving on. Treats can help, but shoving food into a scared pup's mouth is not accomplishing what you may think it is.
Another common mistake regarding socialization is waiting too long. The key developmental period in puppies ends at 16 weeks! After 4 mths your pup is less open to new experiences and his personality becomes more fixed (brave, shy etc). You can always use desensitization and counter conditioning to help your adolescent dog become more comfortable with novel things, but true socialization effects how your pup will view environmental and social challenges for the rest of his life...And it has to happen early!
Think you've socialized your pup well, but he is still fearful, aggressive or spooky as a young adult?
1. Don't give up - keep working on positive exposure paired with lots of reinforcement. Sometimes dogs seem to turn a behavioral corner at 2. Don't ask me why...but it happens.
2. Genetics are genetics are genetics. You've all heard "You can't fix stupid". Well...pups are born with a set of genes that we can't change, only make the best of. Sometimes in spite of our best efforts our pups grow into worried adult dogs. Sensitive souls I call them. They can make lovely pets once you accept them for who they are and change your expectations slightly to give them the time and space they need to be comfortable in their world.
3. Take a long hard look at the actual amount of socialization that you gave your pup. Meeting a couple men...or your niece's toddler...or going for a walk once downtown... when you are a childless, single woman who lives on a dirt road is just not enough! Repeated positive exposure is needed to cement social and behavioral flexibility.
My new pup, Goose was 6 1/2 wks old when I got him. He is 7 1/2 wks old now.
I am keeping a socialization journal.
To date he has actively ENJOYED meeting the following:
Men - 7 (including one biker in full gear, one man in suit, one painter with brushes and ladder, several junkyard workers)
Women - 17 (varying sizes and shapes)
Kids - 1 (3 yr old boy)
Dogs - 14 (big, small, young, old)
He has been curious but a bit overwhelmed by 3 Dogs (moving away, but back toward to investigate).
He has been passively socialized with:
6 yr old female child
baby in stroller
(siblings of the 3 year old boy he played with)
Goose has been to the following new places:
friends house (2 different)
bank (2 different)
store (2 different)
downtown Brandon (walking)
back field of our property
Junk yard/ steel yard
He has also been scared by 1 dog (my cranky old Vizsla who growled fiercely at him for jumping on his head!), but it has only happened once while coexisting with that dog for the week. Right now they are both napping at my feet about 6 feet apart. Goose will have to learn that not ALL dogs want to play with him and he will learn that by meeting LOTS of friendly dogs so he knows what friendly looks like and also by being CAREFULLY exposed to less than tolerant dogs so he can learn what the "ugly face" means!
Here is Goose taking refuge with his "nice" siblings after being yelled at by his big, "mean" older brother!
Stay tuned...for an on going blog series about RAISING GOOSE!