Welcoming a new bundle of fur into your pack is an exciting time. Few things are cuter than new puppy snuggles and tail wags, but caring for your new family member requires ample time, patience, frequent walks, and multiple veterinary visits during the first year of their life. Similar to young children, puppies will be curious as they explore their surroundings, often taste-testing things with their paws and mouth. Additionally, the first three months of a puppy’s life will set the tone for adulthood and are critical for them to become a happy, confident, well-adjusted dog. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, poor manners and behavioral problems are the primary reasons dogs are relinquished to animal shelters and the number one cause of death in dogs under 3 years old. Our Pierson Pet Hospital team wants pet owners to understand the importance of proper socialization, so follow these five tips to start your puppy’s manners off on the right paw.
#1: Introduce your puppy to a variety of new sights, smells, and sounds
“Variety is the spice of life” holds true, especially when it comes to your puppy’s socialization. Everything in their environment is new and an opportunity for them to have a positive association with something unfamiliar. Each new positive experience is one paw closer to a well-behaved adult dog and will decrease the chances of fear-based behavioral problems. Expose your puppy to a variety of surfaces, including carpet, hardwood, tile, and cement. Introduce them to various types of people, including different sexes, ages, races, and heights. Ensure that any new person interacts with your puppy on your puppy’s terms, and have them offer a treat or favorite toy during the encounter. Expose your puppy to various environmental sights and sounds, including doorbells, car sounds, and urban city sounds, or country sights such as farm animals, depending on where you live. This checklist provides numerous ideas for different types of interactions to share with your puppy.
#2: Slow socialization leads to successful puppy manners
“Slow and steady wins the race” also holds true when it comes to socializing your puppy. Puppyhood goes by quickly, and the first six to eight weeks of their life are when they are most receptive to new experiences. By the time your puppy is 8 weeks old, they become more cautious and fearful of changes in their environment. However, introducing them to new stimuli too quickly or aggressively can cause them to have negative associations that may be irreversible. Gradually introduce your puppy to new situations, sounds, people, and sights. Your puppy reflects your reactions and feelings, so ensure you remain calm and neutral during their exploration of a new environment or stimulant. It’s also critical to avoid reinforcing undesirable responses, such as noise aversion or fear.
#3: Learn to recognize puppy stress and anxiety signs
Understanding your puppy’s limits and stress triggers is vital for successful socialization. If your puppy appears anxious or stressed with a new person or in a new situation, it is best to remove them immediately. Common stress and anxiety signs include:
- Excessive panting
- Growling or snarling
- Snapping or biting
- Cowering, attempting to hide
- Flattening the ears, or putting them back
- Putting the tail between the legs
- Urinating or defecating inappropriately
#4: Make every experience a positive one for your puppy
Each new interaction and experience is an opportunity to properly socialize your puppy so that they become a well-mannered, happy, and well-adjusted adult dog. Be ready with plenty of treats, and praise your puppy each time they have a new positive experience. Consider taking your puppy for a happy visit with our Pierson Pet Hospital veterinarian to decrease the chances of them becoming fearful every time they require an examination. Additionally, regularly handling your puppy’s ears, paws, and mouth will decrease the chances they will act out during examinations or interactions with younger children. Puppy socialization should continue into adulthood so that they don’t lose their social skills as they age. Providing positive reinforcement with praise, treats, or a favorite toy will ensure your puppy understands the desired behavior.
#5: Consider professional puppy classes
A puppy’s disease risk is higher during the first three months of their life because they are not fully immunized against common dog diseases. However, this time also coincides with their critical socialization period. While at-home training is key, interactions with other puppies and adult dogs during this period will set the tone for their lifelong behavior around other dogs or pets. Although not without some risk, professional puppy classes will teach them new skills and ways to behave around other pets and people. Ways to decrease your puppy’s disease risk during socialization classes include:
- Ensuring your puppy has had at least one set of vaccinations and their first deworming
- Ensuring your puppy and other puppies attending the class are parasite-free and disease-free
- Choosing a class that is held on a surface that can be sanitized regularly, like tile or linoleum
- Avoiding areas, like grass, where urine and stool can accumulate
Properly socializing your puppy will drastically decrease the chances of them having lifelong behavioral problems. Call our Pierson Pet Hospital office if you have any questions about your puppy’s behavior or socialization, or to schedule their wellness appointment so they can attend puppy classes.