A puppy can bring endless joy and new life to the home of a family that has been eagerly awaiting its arrival. Having done their research and choosing the right breeder, family members have learned to feed, care for and train their new wiggling, licking, chewing, pooping, peeing, whining, nipping, digging, barking, four-legged furry bundle of love. What’s next?
Socialization can be described as how animals learn to recognize and interact with humans and other animals. Exposing your puppy, slowly, to as many different situations as possible is, perhaps, the most important thing you can do for your puppy.
Up to seven weeks of age, the mother is the most important influence on her puppies’ mental development. She gives them half of their genes, nurtures them, teaches communication skills and discipline, and acts as a role model. Puppies will mirror their mother’s reactions to outside stimuli. If mom barks or runs away when strangers approach, so will the puppies. If she is friendly and outgoing, her puppies will follow mom’s lead. In his/her new home, the puppy will mirror the behaviour of a canine housemate as well.
Beyond the basics of ensuring healthy, stable parents, proper health care, and a wholesome diet, the skills that a puppy learns before leaving for his/her new home are fundamental. Responsible breeders will keep puppies with their mother and littermates for ten weeks. During the first weeks of life, the puppy learns to interact with other puppies, giving and gaining respect from siblings. Such skills foster the ability to process situations that may at first, be scary, surprising or exciting. By having the support system of the dam, littermates, and breeder, the puppy is encouraged and taught that he/she is safe.
Your puppies development should be done while keeping some basic rules. Exposure does not automatically lead to socialization, because it must lead to a positive experience, and sudden exposure to a stressful situation can produce the opposite effect.
Always allow the puppy to explore and approach new situations and people at his own pace. You can encourage, congratulate, and reward but never force or rush them. If you are worried that a situation may be too much for your puppy, add some distance.
Animals: Socialization with other dogs is important, but remember your puppy is not fully immunized until after 16 weeks. Avoid dog parks and other doggy places such as pet stores. Focus on playdates with other dogs that you know are healthy and well tempered Perhaps a friend or family member can assist with their dog.
Try to socialize with dogs of different ages, sizes, play styles, colours, and breeds. The same applies to cats, horses, chickens, etc., but in smaller quantities.
People: Exposure to an array of humans of different sizes and ages, wearing glasses/sunglasses, a beard, a hat, with a cane or walker, or in a wheelchair or stroller, who are loving, fearful or indifferent, is excellent for the young pup. This can be achieved by taking your puppy to public places that are not necessarily “doggy places.” Never force a puppy into these situations. Ask passers-by to ignore the puppy until such a time that the puppy initiates contact and behaves appropriately. This means behaving quietly without jumping, pawing or other offensive dog behaviours.
Noise: Remember that puppies have far more sensitive hearing than we do. Your responsible breeder has taken the time to expose your puppy to various noises (household noises like a vacuum cleaner, traffic, crowds, thunderstorms, etc.), ensuring that the puppy makes positive associations by pairing exposure with fun things like food or play. (Many noises can be found online.)
Surfaces: Many puppies miss out on experiencing the feel of different things under their paws, like grass, carpet, wood floors, gravel, and uneven/off-level surfaces. A solid sense of body awareness will allow your puppy to confidently conquer the never-ending places their paws will carry them, over their lifetimes!
Locations: Go on field trips, car rides, visits to the vet, the beach, schools, shops, markets, and hotel rooms where you might stay during a dog show — or even just a visit to a friend or neighbour’s backyard. The options are endless, and the experiences are invaluable.
Handling: Throughout their lives, dogs are expected to tolerate being touched and restrained by humans for their safety and happiness, and the safety of those handling them. Once they realize that whatever is happening will not harm them, they settle down. Learning to accept nail trimming, bathing, gentle brushing or examining of the ears, mouth or eyes as puppies, results in a far more manageable teenager or adult, who is bigger, stronger, and more determined!
Visitors: A puppy will always feel more secure at home. If you don’t have children, it is a good idea to invite some into your home. Any visitors should be prompted to initially ignore the puppy until the puppy gains confidence to approach humans. Remember, no puppy should be allowed to climb or jump on people, and no mouthing behaviours should be tolerated. A puppy should only be petted or rewarded when he/she behaves calmly and quietly. Don’t permit behaviours that you will later need to correct.
Final note: Your GIANT puppy is like a child that will learn and develop through positive experiences and success. When your puppy is brought home, let his first successes be with his new family. Before you invite family friends and dogs to meet your new family member, take a week to let him/her learn about you. Teach your puppy to be calm, and to take direction from you. The rest will come easily.
To be put in contact with knowledgeable breeders, please contact the IWCC secretary.