by Aaron Hill
If puppies had report cards, you'd want your puppy's to read, "Plays well with others." Puppy socialization is essential during his formative weeks, so your pal becomes a good canine citizen -- and that involves introducing your dog to a variety of other dogs, people and places.
The more you can socialize your puppy in his early stages, the more likely he is to be a well-adjusted adult dog later in life -- and the less likely your dog is to exhibit negative behaviors, such as aggression or fear.
Socialization begins the moment your puppy is born and is inherently nurtured by his mom and littermates. Then it's up to you as the puppy parent to continue the education. Basic puppy socialization and obedience classes are a fantastic way to get started. These classes offer your puppy valuable learning experiences to help him overcome a puppy's two biggest fears: unfamiliar puppies and unfamiliar people. Look for courses that are held in a safe, controlled environment and conducted by an experienced professional who practices positive reinforcement training.
Stage your own puppy socializing opportunities outside of class to continue his education. Expose your dog to:
Kids and puppies need to be taught how to interact with each other and to respect boundaries. An adult should introduce a child to a puppy by allowing the puppy to approach the child, not the other way around. For safety, have your puppy leashed to give you more control over the interaction. Introduce your puppy to kids of all ages, races and sexes. Expose her to elderly folks too.
Strange noises, different smells and crowds of people can trigger a fear reaction in your puppy. You can't expose him to every possible stimulus, but you can desensitize him to new stimuli by lavishing him with praise and giving him a treat if he remains calm or expresses curiosity. Don't force your puppy to interact with the new stimuli if he's genuinely afraid; just try again later.
City mouse or country mouse? Switch it up and expose your rural Rover to urban streets, and take your city slicker for walks in the woods. Even a visit to the neighbor's house can be an adventure -- especially if your neighbor owns a cat! While you're exploring new terrain, don't forget to praise and reward positive reactions to new sights, smells and objects.
Practice puppy socialization early, often and with as much variety as possible. Just be sure your puppy is vaccinated to protect her from diseases or viruses she might encounter. Your hard work will pay off with a dog that's confident in all sorts of situations.
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Pets | Dogs: Puppy Socialization: A Trainer's Top Tips