Dog ownership can sometimes be related to experiences that we have as humans. For instance, when a child is going to the dentist, to school, a zoo, or any other environment for the first time, or meeting someone new, there can be apprehension and discomfort; even fear, as a result of experiencing these new events. However, we do not shelter our children from these events: we encourage them to interact with the world, and we encourage the world to interact with our children. This is known as socialization, and is a vital part of healthy functioning in any social hierarchy- including in the world of dogs.
Numerous studies have shown repeatedly that there is a peak period for socialization in puppies, typically from three to twelve weeks of age. Although socialization is a lifelong necessity, it is during this important time that a majority of the behaviors your dog displays in social situations will be determined. So how do you socialize your puppy? You take them everywhere with you, and you introduce them to as many different sights, sounds, smells, and other creatures that you possibly can.
Even the first few days with a new puppy are about socialization. They will be investigating their new home, getting to know you, and coming to understand their role in your family hierarchy. During this time, and over the next several weeks, slowly expose your puppy to everything in and around your home. Run household machinery like the dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, a hair dryer, or a generator. Introduce your puppy to your other pets and family members. While experiencing these things, try not to focus on your pup too much. Act as you normally would when around these people or pieces of equipment. Be certain to give lavish praise when the encounter is over and your puppy acted favorably.
Take your puppy for frequent walks, both on a leash and off, depending on the safety of your environment. Brush your puppy on a regular basis, and handle his feet, tail, ears and lips. Expose him to a crate or kennel, and encourage him to sleep or simply relax in it.
Bring your puppy out into the world. Take him for regular car rides, and expose him to the radio, to the beep of a horn, and to the sound of wind rushing in through an open window. Your pup should be exposed to a farm, and be introduced to various farm animals. City parks, walking trails, dog parks and beaches are all great places to expose your dog to a wide variety of stimuli. You should beware, however, to keep your puppy away from strange dogs, or dogs that appear wounded or ill. Remember that your puppy's immune system is still quite young, and that not everyone vaccinates their dogs.
Socialization with your puppy should never be rushed or forced. In addition, you should be mindful that you are rewarding the right behavior, and correcting undesired behavior. Your pup should never be soothed when it is acting unfavorable. Soothing is a form of praise, and therefore there are situations where you can actually be "praising" your dog for being neurotic, fearful or aggressive.
Like humans, dogs go through different psychological phases as they grow older. Their personalities change, and the way they respond to their environment can change. This is why it is important to continue your dog's socialization for its entire life. Besides, that's what your puppy wants anyway- to go with you and experience everything you do!
Geoffrey A. English is the Founder of GundogsOnline.com, the internet's premiere online magazine dedicated to hunt dogs. Visit their site for a large selection of electronic dog collars; including brands such as Tri-tronics, Innotek, SportDOG, and Dogtra.