From Cute Puppy to Calm and Well Socialized Dog
Did you know the number one reason dogs under three years are put down? According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, it is because of behavioral issues, not infectious diseases or illness. So, it goes without saying that you should make sure your puppy is obedient and trained. However, it is equally important that you socialize your puppy if you want a well-adjusted, confident and happy dog.
So in this blog post I’ll go over the following:
- About The Body Language of The Puppy
- How to Best Support Your Puppy
- What to Look For in The Puppy’s Body Language
- Why You Should Choose Puppy School
- Be Aware of Her Age
- Be Careful When Your Puppy Meets A Grown Dog
- How to Make Your Own List
- Do it Right When Exposing Your Puppy To New Things
- Think Abstract
- Your Puppy Remembers Everything Including The Bad
- Puppy Socialization Short Cuts
- Seven to 16 Weeks
- 12 to 16 Weeks
- Four to Seven Months
- Seven to 10 Months
- 10 to 17 Months
- 17 to 22 Months
Dogs who are not socialized are more often afraid, and fear is a lethal enemy since it triggers the flight or fight response. And for domestic dogs, the flight is often not an option, so what is left is the fight. The problem is that people label dogs who fight as aggressive, so they feel the need to put them to sleep.
Setting the foundation for socialization is easiest when you start early in life before your puppy turns four months of age. At this age, it is important to expose her gently to a wide variety of people, places, and situations, which makes a huge, permanent difference. It’s your responsibility that what she experiences at this time is worth collecting, not least because what your puppy learns in this short period of time is irreversible.
Dogs who have not been out in the world will often be afraid of the normal, everyday things they have not seen before. It could be busses, cars, trains or children, women with hats and men with beards and more. It might sound silly but imagine that you have never seen a man with a huge beard before and you are so old, you know this world could be a scary place. Honestly, would you not be afraid?
Often when most people want to socialize their dog, they think of dog-to-dog socialization. And this is important because you want your puppy to be confident and happy around other dogs. If your dog is not comfortable with other dogs or considers them dangerous, meeting other dogs could convince your dog, that you, her human is in danger. This will make the threat even bigger and her reaction even stronger and more dangerous.
And not only is it vital that your puppy meets other puppies and dogs, but it is also important how they meet. However, even though dog-to-dog socialization is extremely important, it is far from the whole truth. So, here is my best tips on what to do when socializing puppies, so your cute puppy will grow into the loveable, confident and well-behaved dog you want.
I teach offline puppy classes and the first time I tell my students to let the puppies play, I often see that their natural instincts are to protect their little puppy when the other puppy starts to growl. Or they become embarrassed if their puppy barks, growls, bites or, God forbid, tries to mate with the others. So, they take their puppy away, but by doing that, they don’t let them learn how to behave. This is because it is only by being together with other puppies will your darling puppy learn.
So, you should let your puppy play with the other puppies, of all breeds and sizes. However, you must pay attention and always be ready to support your little one. You don’t want your puppy to come to any harm or harm the others. You want to avoid bad experiences, so when you let your puppy play, be sure to keep a close eye on her.
In my classes I always let the puppies play for five to 10 minutes. I do this to let the puppies take a break from school, but in reality, they are still educating themselves. They are learning the all-important dog-to-dog language.
When puppies play, they learn a lot about other dog’s body language, and they also test their own. When you look at two puppies playing, you’ll see them snarl, growl, stand up tall to show how big they are and perhaps even bark. This is all part of the game, so don’t worry. They are playing the game of “who is the baddest in this neighborhood,” just without guns and the intention to really hurt each other.
Although they bite each other, remember that a dog’s skin is much thicker than your, so it doesn’t hurt that much. In the beginning, they don’t know how hard they can bite, so when you hear a cry from one of them, notice that the other puppy usually stops straight away and looks puzzled. This is because they have no intention of hurting each other. But this game is showing them just how hard they can bite until it is painful. And that is the only way they’ll learn this lesson.
Often my human students tend to want to protect their “baby,” and I find this quite heartwarming. However, to support a puppy, the best way is not to take her away from play-fighting. Just make sure nothing serious happen in the process.
Instead of taking their dog away from playing, I tell my human students what to look for and what to do. People with small dogs find it natural to pick up the puppy and make sure she is not hurt by the others. Unfortunately, this doesn’t educate the puppy on how to behave. To the contrary, your puppy learns other dogs are bad and will grow up barking and growling at them, just to be on the safe side.
Yes, it might look funny and cute. But a small dog who barks and growls while pulling on the leash to get to the big dog is not a calm or confident dog. She is a frightened dog who is barking and growling to keep the monsters away since she can’t run away.
So instead of picking up your puppy, give her a safe place where she can run if the play gets too rough. If her playmates run after her, you just push them gently away. To create this safe spot, sit down with one knee on the ground and the other up so your puppy can seek shelter there. From this safe spot, your puppy can go out and play or she can watch, it’s her own choice.
But sometimes she might not be able to reach “safety.” So how do you determine if she needs to be rescued? Well, then you need to know a bit about a puppy’s body language, as well.
Puppies that are playing will use their whole bodies. Their eyes, ears, head, body, and tail all are words in this puppy language. Are the ears pointing forwards as with happy, strong puppies or are they pointing backward showing inferiority? Are the eyes big and staring or small and elusive? Is the tail happy and playful or curled under the puppy? All this can be hard to decipher when puppies are busy playing.
As a rule, I look for the way puppies hold their heads and bodies when playing. If they are facing each other, they usually want to engage and are enjoying the play. However, if there head is turned away from the other puppy and if she seems to kind of creep away, I don’t consider this an equal match and I break it up.
Always, when in doubt, I break up the play-fight, just for a second. I sit down and provide the smallest or weakest puppy with a safe spot protected by my legs and arms. If this puppy now jumps out and starts the play again, I just watch and let them continue the play. But if she stays under the protection of my leg, I push the other away until the one under my leg wants to join in. If she does not, I break these two up and find another playmate for both of them.
I teach this to all my students, and here, you can see how it works out. Notice that Bella, at some point, seeks the comfort and shelter under her human mom’s leg. She gets a cuddle and right away she ventures out to have fun and play with the other puppies. This is Bella’s fourth time with us and her owner tells me how confident Bella has grown in only these two weeks.
This would never have happened if Bella’s owner had not been there to support Bella without taking her away from the others but simply provide the shelter and safety she has needed to grow and learn.
You can see for yourself by watching this video on the supervised play in puppy-class.
Besides teaching your puppy the basic commands, puppy school will help get socialization on its way. Since it is often supervised, it makes the meetings with other puppies a safe place to get experiences. I know that some trainers don’t let the puppies loose.
In my opinion, the puppies and their owners are missing out on good opportunities to learn and grow. So, if possible, chose a puppy class where they allow puppies to play under supervision.
Puppies normally play together without any problems. But when they become more mature, their play might develop into a more regular fight for control and dominance. Don’t let this happen. If you know your puppy is maturing, either emotionally or sexually, be careful if you let her play. And most of all, be ready to divert or break it up altogether.
No puppy matures at the same age, but there are some guidelines for when this happens. Look at the last section “Important facts on when and why” to learn more.
Importantly, you need to be careful when your puppy meets a grown dog. Even if puppies learn a great deal about body language when meeting a grown dog, they don’t always understand this language. After all, they are learning, you know. So, they might miss out on early warnings from the grown dog and this can result in a dangerous situation, leaving a lasting mark on your puppy.
Grown dogs often don’t like puppies because of their lack of understanding for the warnings older dogs send out, so they lack any patience with them. But as a puppy owner, you must see to it that your puppy doesn’t get in harm’s way. Meeting puppies and meeting grown dogs are two totally different stories.
So, now you know how to let your puppy meet other puppies and dogs. However, there are far more people, cars, sounds and new things in the world. And it’s important that your puppy learn that these are not frightening monsters, well, most of them, at least.
You need your puppy to feel confident and secure when you take her for a walk. That way, she can focus on you and the job at hand instead of looking over her shoulder all the time. You don’t want her to be so fearful, there’s no room for anything else than being on the lookout.
For your puppy to grow into a confident, well-adjusted and secure dog, you must expose her to as many facets of life as possible in the first important four months. Most people don’t get their puppy until she is eight weeks old, which only leaves you with a window of eight weeks. For most of the first week, you should let your puppy settle down in her new home.
You want her to become comfortable with her new family before you introduce her to even more news. Remember, you are making a huge change in your puppy’s life when you take her away from her mother and siblings, so give her time to adjust. That leaves you with just seven weeks to show your little puppy all in life, and that’s not likely to happen.
However, this is the window of time where your puppy is most amenable. But even if you are not able to show your puppy all in the whole world, don’t give up. Be ambitious, because, besides the things your puppy will meet the most often, you must show her even more. She needs you to do this for her to become a confident dog. And remember you can still expose your puppy to new things, even when she is older.
But think about what your puppy will encounter, even if it is not on a regular basis. Pick these out and build your list from there. My checklist will help you come up with what you need to show your puppy. Feel free to use this list for inspiration when you make your own list. However, you don’t have to go through the list from end to end.
Of course, it is not only what to expose her to, but also how. Be sure to make the exposing all positive, or at least neutral. That means you need to be sure always to bring treats with you. You never know what might seem frightening to your puppy, so always be ready to offer her treats to sweeten up the experience.
However, don’t use the treats to lure your puppy into something she is not aware of doing, such as luring her onto shaky grounds. Instead, use the treats to make her feel comfortable and confident enough to walk out there on her own behalf.
Also, you need to make sure you expose your puppy in the right order and the appropriate amount. Remember, distance is important here. So, start small and give her some distance for her to get used to this new thing. So, let her look and move towards it on her own, if at all possible.
In addition, be sure to expose your puppy more than once. Recent research suggests that puppies need to exposure to things several times over the socialization period. Be sure to take it slow and let her meet one or two strangers the first time, or let her see cars, but at a distance. Be sure your puppy always feels safe, even if you must push her out of her comfort zone once in a while. Just make sure to find that fine balance.
Most importantly you must be ready to say “no.” Always think about what an experience will do to your puppy. So, if a small child, screaming and running around, wants to play with your puppy and you do not think your puppy will benefit from that, just say no.
Your puppy won’t able to do it. She depends on you to make the right call. This is also true for other dog owners who would like their dog to meet your puppy. Be prepared to just say no thanks, if you feel the need.
Besides things to see, you must remember that some things are invisible. For example, thunder will be hard to point out to your dog. But it is still important to expose your puppy positively to this unless it never happens where you live. So find examples of these sounds on the internet (Fireworks and thunder) and play this loud in the beginning. While listening to these sounds, make sure to do fun stuff with your puppy. Play, train, treat. It must mean good things to hear these sounds. Now gradually turn up the volume over a month or so until the volume is as in real life events.
Also, be sure to expose your puppy to touch. Dogs who fear a hand has a tough life. Someone needs to trim their nails and check their teeth, ears, and eyes. So be sure to touch your puppy all over. Touch the nails, even when you are not trimming them, check out the paws and feel the coat.
My Atlas had a nail and foot pad-injury recently. To avoid taking off the nail, the vet told me to apply nail polish to strengthen the nail and repair any small fractures on them. I also needed to bandage a paw on the other foot. If I had not been training my dogs to let me touch them and hold their paws, I would have never succeeded. As it was, Atlas kept still while I was holding his paw and the nail to avoid getting nail polish all over him.
To prepare even better, teach your puppy to wear a baby sock. Getting a puppy used to having something on her paws will teach her not to pay attention to this later in life. And that means if she, like Atlas, gets injured and needs stitches and/or bandaging, she’ll be more comfortable. That way, she won’t try to take it off and perhaps you may avoid forcing her to wear a screen or cone.
Here’s how to teach your puppy to wear baby socks:
- Put a baby sock on one of her paws when you’re out walking. Wait till you are on the move to put it on because then she’ll be more distracted, so she will not pay the sock so much attention.
- Leave it on for five to 10 minutes while activating your puppy, offering treats and so on.
- Then take it off her without any fuss and repeat, repeat, repeat until she finds it quite natural and doesn’t notice it.
It is important always to keep the exposing positive or at the least, neutral. In the crucial time from seven to eight weeks up until 16 weeks, your puppy will remember all she is exposed to, both good and bad, and for the rest of her life.
When your puppy is all grown up and finds herself in new and to her, strange situations, she’ll draw on her experiences as a puppy. If what she remembers is positive and good, she’ll become a happy and confident grown dog. If what she remembers is bad, she is likely to become a fearful and nervous grown dog.
As your puppy grows, she’ll investigate on her own, and this is important too. However, if you can see something will end badly, for example, if she investigates a hornet’s nest, help her not to make a mistake. Remember that a puppy that gets positive experiences will be well equipped for adulthood and what follows.
Here are a few ways to socialize your puppy by exposing her to new experiences:
- Sound CDs: This is a genius way to let your puppy experience sounds you might not be able to produce yourself. For your puppy to think nothing of thunder, just put on a CD with this noise, first on low volume. Then over the next couple of weeks, turn up the volume while feeding her treats and praising and perhaps doing exercises she knows and loves.
- Puppy Schools: I’ve mentioned this a couple of times because this is a way to expose your puppy to new smells and sights, as well as other puppies and more people, but in a controlled environment and among people who love puppies. 🙂
- Open Places with Crowds: Often you’ll be able to see many different types of people and at the same time keep out of reach. You can let your puppy explore from a “safe place,” perhaps on a bench or from behind your legs. Remember not to move too quickly ahead. Let your puppy set the pace.
- The Zoo or Animal Park: These places deliver many new smells, new sights, other puppies and other animals, and a lot of people. Don’t go there on your first day out. But, go there if possible when your puppy is feeling confident and has tried a bit.
- Ball Pits or Baths: If possible, let your puppy play in a pile of plastic balls like those places children play inside. This will teach her that even quite different surfaces are safe and perhaps even funny. This will help the puppy grow confidence, both in herself and you, not minding to try different surfaces in the future.
Watch this video to see a puppy in my plastic ball bath for the first time. To compare, here is a video of a grown dog visiting the same place for the first time. Notice how I put her in there and then throw her a treat she loves. Later, I’m trying to lure her with the same treat to go back inside.
Your puppy will go through the perfect socialization period when she is around seven weeks to four months of age. However, it starts as soon as at three weeks old. But typically, her mom and the breeder will take care of that. So, your job starts when you get your puppy. Be aware from that moment until around four months old, what you show your puppy and how she experiences it will permanently shape how she will react to things in her environment as an adult.
You could say that this period shapes her future personality. And as a ground rule, she’ll be open to all you offer her now. But of course, she can get scared, so be sure to do it right. When you get your puppy home, let her get to know you and your home. After all, it will be hers as well.
Allow her to settle down and establish a base where she knows she belongs and feels confident and secure. After a couple of days, you can start bringing her out to see the rest of the world.
Most puppies will try to be more dominant at this age. They’ll play roughly with kids and other dogs, and they’ll try to take the lead in relation to you, your kids and other dogs. And they might be naughty, picking up what they are not allowed like shoes. However, don’t let your puppy be dominant.
Be gentle but firm, divert her attention if she does something you don’t want and tell her no if it is necessary. This period will soon pass and showing her what you’ll accept and not accept will help her get through it.
At this time, your puppy will calm down and be willing to learn. If you’ve dealt with it right until now, she will know her place and feel good. Use this period to teach her all you can think of that is relevant to her life. If you have children, let them train her, too, as it will make her respect them more.
And, enjoy her. Of course, you should keep on showing her new things. But be aware that she by now is a bit more skeptical, and this is all good. If your puppy lives in nature, this would be the time where she would have to travel further away from her cave, so it is in her nature to be more careful when meeting new things.
Watch out – your puppy is physically maturing. Boys will start lifting their leg while peeing while girls will go into their first heat. Smaller breeds tend to mature a bit earlier, while bigger breeds mature a bit later. No matter your puppy’s size, maturing usually messes with her head, so just be aware of this. In this period, your puppy starts growing into a young dog and she is going to test you to see who is in charge.
Remember not to let her be dominant towards you or anyone else, human or dog. Divert her attention, instead. Don’t try to teach her new tricks and don’t despair if she seems to have forgotten all you have taught her until now. Be patient no matter what, also when exposing to new things. If possible, try not to ask too much of her until all of this blows over
Finally, your puppy is normally over her first teenage-period. Go back and read four to 10 months again and enjoy her.
This is when your puppy is going through maturing, so this time, it is even more of a challenge as she is becoming emotionally mature. To put it short, your puppy is a teenager. So, read seven to 10 months again and be patient. After 23 months, you can just enjoy your dog and take benefit from all the work you have done so far with your wonderful puppy.
Never stop socializing your puppy or dog. However, it is important to do as much as you can in the first four months. And do it right. Make sure to challenge your puppy, but never make her feel overwhelmed or afraid.
Always be there for your puppy, letting her make her own experiences, while keeping her out of harm’s way. That way, you’ll never let her feel that she is facing this alone. Your puppy will come to rely on and trust in you. And if you do your job right, your puppy will develop into a confident, calm and loving grown dog. Best of all, your life together will be filled with happiness and joy.
Will You Help Me?
This is how I see it, but what are your experiences with socializing? Please share, so we can all become better. And if you’ve found value in this article, please let me know by posting a comment and please share.