Behavior problems are the #1 reason dog owners give up their pets to shelters.
Many studies have indicated that owners who relinquish their dogs do so because of a behavioral issue–it’s estimated that this is the reason 50 – 65% of the time when dogs are surrendered. Sadly, this is usually the result of poor training on the part of the owner, who may have unknowingly encouraged bad behavior when thier puppy was small and cute.
Puppies go through two stages of socialization very early in their lives. The first stage is from 3 to 5 weeks, when they learn from their mothers how to be dogs and interact appropriately with their littermates. The second stage, when they are most impressionable, is from 6 to 16 weeks of age. This is when they learn how to interact with people, and if owners approach this stage with common-sense parenting skills, it can lead to well-behaved pets that are beloved members of the family. I use the phrase “parenting skills” because puppies start off just like babies and quickly become toddlers and young children. Teaching puppies what is appropriate behavior and what is unacceptable is a matter of rewarding them positively for good behavior and using a stern “NO” when they act inappropriately.
Just what is socialization and why is it important?
Socialization is a matter of exposing puppies to new things and teaching them how to react properly. Because puppies are young and their immune systems are still developing, it is best to start socializing them in their own home environments and waiting a few weeks before introducing them to the world. People and other pets that will be a frequent presence in their lives should spend as much time as possible with them.
Because puppies spend the first socialization period playing with their littermates, they will want to jump up and bite with their new people littermates. This is when we have to teach them what is known as “bite inhibition”. Basically say “NO” in a stern voice, and turn your back on them for 5 to 10 seconds to send the message that you will not play in that manner. If they sit quietly, you can then softly pet them and reward them with verbal praise, telling them how good they are for sitting quietly.
This is also the time to work on house-training and teaching puppies that you are allowed to touch them all over, including areas of their bodies that they may not enjoy attention, such as their ears, mouths and feet. Similarly, they must learn that you are in charge and are allowed to touch objects they initially may be protective of, such as their toys and food bowls.
Hello, big new World!
Soon you will want to introduce your puppy to new people, places, and experiences, but always do this in a safe, positive and controlled manner. Start by walking around your neighborhood and meeting people and other pets your puppy is likely to encounter regularly. Eventually graduate to more crowded places. While out and about, always speak positively and with encouragement, so that your puppy becomes comfortable and conditioned to noise and crowds.
Puppy kindergarten classes are a wonderful way to not only socialize your puppy, but also to learn tips that you can employ regularly at home to further the bonding experience with your new puppy. Young pups can start kindergarten as early as 8 weeks of age and then graduate to obedience training afterwards.
Sometimes the correct way to train your puppy is the opposite of how people react naturally. What seems cute when the puppy is tiny can become a real nuisance when they are larger and older. Learning how to spot these behaviors early and correct them properly leads to a much more rewarding pet ownership experience. The human-animal bond can be very powerful when owners and pets are on the same page. Utilizing your veterinarian to answer your questions and, of course, the trainers and teachers at puppy kindergarten and obedience classes can lead to a fantastically rewarding lifelong experience with your new family member!