A young puppy has so much potential and starting off from scratch means you have the opportunity to make impressions on her that will last for the rest of her life. Your dog’s early experiences will shape her personality, how she sees the world around her and how she deals with stress. A well thought out socialization plan can help you raise a dog that you can take anywhere with anyone with a happy wag of her tail. Poor socialization can leave you with a fearful, reactive dog that can’t cope with being outside of her home environment. Give your puppy the best possible start by making sure she has early, safe and POSITIVE experiences with a variety of people, places, surfaces, sounds and temperatures.
By the time a puppy is seven weeks old he/she should have:
- Been on 7 different types of surfaces: carpet, concrete, wood, vinyl, grass, dirt, gravel, wood chips
- Played with 7 different types of objects: big balls, small balls, soft fabric toys, fuzzy toys, squeaky toys, paper of cardboard items, metal items, sticks or hose pieces
- Been in 7 different locations: front yard, back yard, basement, kitchen, car, garage, laundry room, bathroom
- Met and played with 7 new people: include children and older adults, someone walking with a cane or stick, someone in a wheelchair or walker
- Been exposed to 7 challenges: climb on a box, climb off a box, go through a tunnel, climb steps, go down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide and seek, in and out of a doorway with a step up or down, run around a fence
- Eaten from 7 different containers: metal, plastic, cardboard, paper, china, pie plate, frying pan
- Eaten in 7 different locations: crate, yard, kitchen, basement, laundry room, living room, bathroom
SOURCE:“Rule of 7’s” by Pat Schaap
Reinforcing Good Behavior : Puppies want attention. They will do a lot to get that attention — even if it is negative! Thus, if you scold your puppy for doing things you don’t want it to do, and ignore it when it is being good, you are reinforcing the wrong things. Ignore the bad things (or stop it without yelling or scolding) and enthusiastically praise it when its doing what you want, even if it’s as simple as sitting and looking at you, or quietly chewing one of its toys. This can be difficult to do, as it is essentially reversing all your normal reactions. But it is very important: you will wind up with a puppy that pays attention to you and is happy to do what you want, if it understands you.
Finally, what should you do if a puppy shows fear whilst it is being socialized/habituated?
(a) Do not overreact. If you try to reassure a puppy it may reinforce its fear, as it will see your reassurance as your fearful response to the thing that frightened it. As “pack leader” you should appear to be unaffected and unworried so as to “set an example” . Don’t unintentionally reward the behavior. Many people see a pup spook at something, and they start petting the pup, saying its ok, good boy, etc. This rewards the pup for acting afraid.
(b) Do not try to pressure a puppy into approaching the item as you will highlight its fear by drawing its attention to it. (Dragging a pup over to something that has just scared it is not a good idea)
(c) Expose the puppy to the type of stimulus that worried it as often as possible, but initially from a distance (i.e. reduce the size of the stimulus) so that the puppy can become desensitized to it. As the puppy’s reaction improves you can gradually increase the amount of stimuli.
(d) Reward the puppy every time it does not react to the stimuli, or as soon as it recovers from its fright if it does react.
Your puppy will be an adolescent for two to three years. He may get ugly and obnoxious for a while. Have faith that he’ll return to that same, gorgeous, eager, willing canine that he was when you got him
Remember that socialization never ends. Fear periods can recur at any time…and probably will. Dominance episodes will come and go, so don’t let them get out of hand. Continually work on separation anxiety. The puppy should be super excited to see you, but not neurotic when you’re gone. Keep the learning light, fun and leave the pup wanting more!
And remember that the most important thing that you accomplish during the first few months of life with your new pup is building a strong, trusting relationship.
You might also be interested in The Rule of 12 post and the 200 Absolutely Essential Puppy Socialization Experiences
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