As a professional dog trainer, I obviously understand the need for my services and I often forget that others do not.
It seems to be a common misconception that dog training services are only for those that want competing sports dogs or own dogs with complex behavioral issues. Many new dog owners do not realize they have a chance to shape their new puppy’s future – depending on when you start the training.
So, When Do We Start?
Puppies go through development stages, just like human babies. During the critical socialization stage, we have a chance to change how our puppy feels about the outside world. Socializing our puppy during their critical socialization from three to twelve weeks can help prevent aggression, reactivity, and fear. You can create a better puppy through proper socialization during these few precious weeks. With each week that passes after their critical socialization period, it becomes harder and harder to get your dog to accept new things.
What Happens Without Proper Socialization?
Most of us are spending the first twelve weeks with our new puppy worrying about potty training. Proper socialization should really be what’s at the top of our list. Our carpets will be the least of our worries when our under socialized dog is barking and lunging at every strange dog, person, or noise on walks. Life with an under socialized dog can be very stressful. Sure, some puppies turn out just fine, but that doesn’t mean you should take the risk. These issues are much harder to solve once they have started. Train smart, not hard.
I once had an elderly client who owned an American Eskimo Dog, which she unknowingly purchased from a puppy mill. She was told over the phone that her dog had been around children, other dogs, and lived within the family home. However, when she arrived to pick up the dog, the breeder refused to meet at her home and insisted they meet halfway to reduce my client’s driving time. When my client saw the puppy, it was scared to death. The breeder shrugged it off and said it was because the puppy had never seen grass before. All of these things should have been major red flags, but my client had fallen in love and brought the puppy home away.
Fast forward to a few months later when she called me, my client couldn’t move a single object in her home without the dog barking until she placed it back into its “rightful place”. Her dog wouldn’t come near me and shook in fear the entire time I was there. Her dog was digging up any new plants she planted in the yard and destroying them after barking at them for hours. The dog was afraid of new objects, new people, and new dogs. Due to under socialization at the puppy mill, he simply had no idea how to cope with new things in a healthy manner.
What is Proper Socialization?
To prevent this and properly socialize your puppy, you should start at three to twelve weeks. During this development stage, our puppies are curious and they are most likely to accept new things. They are seemingly fearless. Around this time, we should expose puppies to different noises. Think children playing, bus noises, honking, trains, and other dogs barking. You should expose your puppy to new sights and textures as well.
The key to proper socializing is to not overwhelm your puppy. Make the experience fun for the puppy. You should watch your puppy’s reaction to the situations and make sure they are still wiggly, playful, and interested. If your puppy has their tail tucked, is hiding, or seems overwhelmed, you should remove them from the situation at once. Socialization is a double edged sword and it goes both ways. Your puppy could have a positive or negative experience and remember it for a lifetime.
With a sensitive and caring owner, you can give your puppy an amazing, fearless future with proper socialization. I hope that new puppy owners will start focusing on their puppy’s social development, just as much as they focus on potty training.
Lauren Parks, CPDT-KA
Lauren Parks is originally from Nashville, TN and currently lives in Jackson, MS with her Novice Trick Dog Australian Kelpie, Beretta and her retired agility Corgi mix, Booski. Lauren Parks is Mississippi’s only Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and trains using positive, humane methods. Lauren has been interested in dog training since childhood and has been training dogs for twelve years. She is the owner of Faithfully Yours Dog Training, a dog training business that serves the Jackson Metro area.