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Puppy play is not just a game

Updated: May 12

By Seneca Guillen |


Socializing your puppy has a lifelong impact, and it's equally important to socialize with other animals and people alike.



As a formerly credentialed Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), one of my passions has always been socializing young puppies. It has been established that young puppies are far more likely to grow into behaviorally sound, well-adjusted adults when they are properly socialized as puppies, and specifically during their "critical" period of socialization, or up until around three months of age. Having also worked in animal health for most of my professional career, I can tell you that working with a socialized, well-adjusted dog in a veterinary setting, makes all the difference in the world, both for the patient, as well as the medical staff.


You may be wondering, "what happens when a puppy misses out on proper socialization during that critical or sensitive period?" Well, the risk for behavioral issues such as fear and aggression greatly increases. You will likely see under socialized puppies react fearfully to a number of stimuli, including but not limited to: unfamiliar people, novel objects and sounds, and other animals. Also, because they were not likely exposed to a lot of handling or restraint, they usually will not tolerate either, and may become aggressive. I have seen countless dogs need sedation for simple services like a nail trim, because they cannot tolerate having their paws handled without becoming fearful or aggressive.





Before I give you some great examples of proper socialization for young puppies, let's first talk about the two ways in which learning occurs. First, dogs learn by association (classical conditioning). Classical conditioning occurs when a stimulus is paired with something that elicits an "unconditioned response." The most well known example of classical conditioning is Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist during the 1890s who was researching salivation in dogs in response to being fed. Operant conditioning, or learning through consequence, is a type of associative learning through which a behavior is strengthened or modified by reinforcement or punishment. A great example would be a puppy discovering that a treat often follows when he sits or performs another desired behavior such as down or shake, etc. Both types of learning often occur at the same time. Puppies can learn both an internal, emotional response (classical conditioning) and an external, behavioral response (operant conditioning) to the same stimulus.



When starting to socialize a new puppy, it is imperative to do so in situations and environments that you can easily control the outcome of.


When starting to socialize a new puppy, it is imperative to do so in situations and environments that you can easily control the outcome of. It is of the utmost importance that the event or encounter has a positive impact on the puppy. For example, I would never recommend taking a new puppy to a dog park, where there are literally so many uncertain scenarios that can play out. Instead, I would try and find friends with well-balanced and behaviorally sound dogs for the puppy to interact with or look into taking a puppy socialization class taught by a certified or experienced trainer in a controlled environment. Below is a brief list of recommended socialization opportunities for you young puppies:


  • New places: veterinary clinics, grooming salons, crates/kennels, vehicles, parks, pet-friendly stores, etc.

  • Men, women, children, people with various skin tones, elderly people, people with hats, men with beards, people using crutches or a walker, people in a wheel chair, etc.

  • Other puppies, adult dogs, cats, small mammals, livestock, horses, poultry, etc.

  • Loud noises: car horns, fireworks, gunshots, vacuum cleaners, blow dryers, etc.

  • Novel objects, novel surfaces such as gravel, hardwood floors, grass, etc.

  • Handling and restraint: picking up paws, touching ears, looking in the mouth, picking up the tail, picking up the puppy, hugging the puppy, holding on to the puppies collar, clipping and unclipping a leash, placing a slip lead, placing a muzzle, placing a harness, etc.



Again, these experiences should occur in a controlled environment, as well as always yield a positive outcome. Always be prepared with yummy treats, a favorite toy, or anything that your puppy finds fun and rewarding. Have patience and remember this will be a process, and there will be setbacks. Stay calm and don't get frustrated or discouraged with the process. It should be fun and rewarding for both you and your puppy!


Proper socialization of young puppies is so important that the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) now believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.

Proper socialization of young puppies is so important that the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) now believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated. Below is a link to their Position Statement On Puppy Socialization, as well as some great info regarding their recommended process of socialization for puppies.


https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Puppy-Socialization-Position-Statement-FINAL.pdf


At Clover Basin Animal Hospital, once you are established as a client, we encourage you to stop in with your new puppy for a "socialization visit" where no medical treatments take place, but rather you can use the time to expose your puppy to new stimuli in a controlled environment. Practice having your puppy get on and off the scale, going through doors and thresholds, meeting new friends, and so much more!



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