Saturday, August 21, 2010

The word of the day was socialization

As you could see by the past photos we had a visitor for a couple of days. He was a 9 week old smooth coated chow chow. I am friends with a fabulous breeder and when she has a litter I usually get to help socialize some of the pups before they head to their new homes. (More photos of her beautiful dogs are here and here. ) I have had quite a few "puppy slumber parties" over the years. It is fun but a lot of work. This guy got to meet lots of other dogs (9 total including my 2) and many different people while he stayed with me. We also had a couple of fun outings including one to The Loyal Biscuit to meet Fenway. (photo above) People are always willing to love on a chow puppy. You have to admit that they are pretty darn cute!

If you want your dog to be social when they are older it is important to expose them to many different people, dog friendly dogs, and new situations while they are young puppies. It is a window of opportunity that closes which is why trainers recommend puppy classes whenever possible. Interestingly the studies they did to learn that puppies needed this critical socialization took place in here in Maine. (In Bar Harbor to be precise.) For anyone interested in a more in depth look at this information check out the book The New Knowledge of Dog Behavior by Clarence Pfaffenberger. Geek alert: This book may be a little dry unless you have a serious interest in dog behavior.

For the average person who wants to know more about what to do to help your puppy become that social dog check out the book After You Get Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar. It explains step by step what you need to do teach your puppy everything it needs to know to grow up to be a safe and confident dog.

There is some debate about the risk of socializing your puppy before their vaccinations are complete. Here is a quote that I think sums that up nicely:

“The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life… For this reason, the AVSAB believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated… While puppies’ immune systems are still developing during these early months… appropriate care makes the risk of infection relatively small compared to the chance of death from a behavior problem.” - The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior *

*Read the full statement here* It is sad that there are dogs that get euthanized for behavior problems that could have been prevented simply by socializing them in the beginning.

Check out this page for even more great links on the subject. If you don't get your puppy socialized when they are young you may end up having to do behavior modification using counter conditioning to get your dog to be ok with everyday events or around other dogs later. Think of it as laying a strong foundation. Like going to a reputable breeder can statistically improve your odds for your dog not having a serious health issue, socializing your puppy will cut down on the odds you'll end up with a serious behavior problem down the line. That said there will always be dogs that you do everything right with that can still end up with some issues. There are no guarantees with puppies. However the more work you put in when they are young is more likely to mean less work you need to do later. And let's be honest here, working with them when they are puppies is a LOT more fun and easier than trying to undo problems when they are bigger and older down the road.

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