Puppy Socialization

Socialization is exactly what it sounds like – learning how to live within society. As humans, we learn socialization so that we can live and work in our communities and get along with other people we encounter. When it comes to puppies, we actually demand quite a bit more than we do of other humans. We expect puppies to be able to coexist not just with their own kind, but with us, and with animals of completely different species. We expect them to be able to behave politely in a variety of different environments, and to accept as normal things that are essentially foreign to them.

Fortunately, most puppies are able to adapt to the unusual, and to come to accept it as normal. However, the older a dog gets, the less inclined he becomes to accept things that are different, novelties. An older dog becomes more suspicious, and less likely to be flexible. That’s why it’s so important to let young puppies get used to a variety of new sounds, sights, animals, and people that are going to form the fabric of his everyday life.

In The Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, author Steven Lindsay describes socialization as a process by which dogs learn to relate and communicate. In other words, they learn how to be a part of a society that includes not just other dogs, but a variety of people, environments, and other animals.

Adaptability

Most puppies are very adaptable. They’re hard-wired to be curious and to want to investigate things that they haven’t experienced before. It’s an age-specific, built-in function that works as sort of a “shock absorber” so that the puppy doesn’t run in panic every time he sees something different, a leaf falls, or someone new approaches. Of course, nature also builds in a healthy amount of prudence, so that a puppy is not likely to approach something that could cause him harm.

To a puppy, everything is new. Most things are exciting, and worthy of exploration. But of course, there’s a bit of caution built in as well, and a young puppy needs the guidance of his adult human to help him through the learning process.

When We Begin to Socialize Pups?

Keep in mind as you read this that socialization means more than just getting a puppy used to humans. We want to begin to build confidence in him very early on, and the process begins with new experiences before we start introducing humans and other animals into the mix.

We start handling our border collie puppies at birth. We begin introducing our puppies to new environments and experiences, just by taking then out of the whelping pen and cuddling him while relaxing in a chair. Later on, the puppies explore multiple environments, meet at least 50 new people, engage in different experiences, like adventure walks, swimming and car rides.

In fact, the earlier they start, the better. Puppies are very receptive to new experiences at 3 weeks, and by the time they reach 12 weeks, they’ll probably be letting you know that they’d love to explore! So seize the opportunity.

Don’t Miss the Boat

By the time a puppy reaches 18 weeks, you’ve closed the window of opportunity when it comes to introducing him to new things. At that stage, he’s going to be very cautious about anything he hasn’t already experienced. Fears that developed prior to 18 weeks are going to be entrenched, and could be very difficult to overcome.

Why Is Socialization So Important?

When a puppy is well-socialized, he is comfortable in virtually any situation, and unlikely to react with aggression or fear when encountering something new. Puppies that are properly socialized will not likely react badly to exuberant children, veterinary exams, and other stressful situations. Given that poorly socialized dogs are very prone to biting, and given that the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior reports that poor socialization is the number one reason why dogs are euthanized, you can see why it is so important to properly socialize your puppy.

1# reason why dogs are euthanized is poor socialization

Simply stated, a well-socialized puppy is more relaxed, more stable, and a better pet. This is because they’re comfortable in a variety of different situations, and less likely to react with fear or aggression than puppies that have not been properly socialized.

How Far Do I Need to Take This?

Much will depend on where you live, how many situations your puppy is likely to encounter in any given day, and how safe you want people to feel around your dog and vice versa. If you live in a subdivision where you’ll be encountering neighbors, and there are kids around, or if you like walking the dog around the neighborhood, you are going to have to work toward an increased level of socialization.  You want your dog to be comfortable, and you want the people he comes into contact with to feel comfortable as well.

What if He’s Afraid?

Some puppies need more work than others when it comes to socialization. Your pup may have entered a fearful phase around the time you get him. Most of the time, any puppy between the ages of 3 and 12 weeks is not going to object to being handled by another person, but if he is afraid, introduce him gradually. Sit away from the person you’re trying to introduce him to, encourage them to offer him treats, and move closer gradually. If he’s afraid of children, ask them to approach quietly, and again, encourage them to give treats. Dogs are very bribe-able and will usually overcome their fear quickly given the right motivation.

Take Him to School

One of the best ways to socialize your puppy is to take him to school. Your local kennel club may offer puppy kindergarten, which is a special sort of class designed specifically for socialization. Your puppy will be able to play off-leash with other puppies, and also meet a lot of humans. Some puppy kindergartens even offer basic obedience training, so in addition to becoming socialized, he’ll learn a few things too.

*We insists that our puppies continue their social skill building with a puppy socialization class or manners class.

Keep current with the Vaccinations

You really can’t begin socializing too soon, but puppies generally need an initial shot and then a booster to be fully immunized against various illnesses. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take your puppy to kindergarten – he will have some level of immunity, and the risk of contracting a disease is actually minimal, especially when you compare it against the risk of developing serious behavioral issues down the road if he isn’t properly socialized.

Remember, socialization has to be done early on, so don’t keep your puppy away from other dogs out of fear that he will contract an illness. The chance of him doing so is slim to none. Also, you’ll be in an environment with other people who are equally concerned about their puppy’s health, so chances are that they will all have had their initial shots. If you’re worried about it, ask the trainer who is conducting the puppy kindergarten what the requirements are for shots, talk to your veterinarian and proceed accordingly.

*We would suggest, though, that you avoid dog parks. Adult dogs at the park may or may not have been vaccinated. And also, you don’t know the behavior of the dogs at the park. Far better to have your little one in puppy kindergarten in the early stages than in an environment with adult dogs whose behavior may be unpredictable.

Set the Stage Now for Good Behavior Later

As we’ve previously stated, behavioral issues are a huge reason why dogs end up being euthanized. So socialize your puppy early – expose him to humans other than yourself, and to other animals. Don’t take risks, though. Choose a safe environment like a puppy kindergarten. Most puppy kindergartens will accept dogs as young as 7 weeks. You will be expected to keep your puppy up to date on his vaccines and de-wormings throughout his enrollment, though.

Don’t stop at kindergarten either. Take your puppy to the mall, the hardware store, the baseball field, and anywhere else that people hang out. Ask your kid’s teacher if it’s okay to bring the puppy to school during recess. Invite your neighbors over to pet your puppy. Most people won’t be able to resist, and you’ll be exposing your dog to all kinds of human interaction. Encourage children to pet him, and to be gentle with him.

Use a Checklist

The UltimatePuppy.com offers a socialization checklist that can help identify situations that might cause your puppy to be fearful, and resistant to socialization. You’ll be able to work through the issues as you identify them, and be able to help your puppy through the socialization process.

It’s amazing the things that can frighten puppies: babies, people in wheelchairs, disabled people, people clapping or yelling, other animals, ice or gravel, lawn mowers, stairs, you name it. Your job as your dog’s human is to help him understand and accept the things that startle or confuse him. Most of the time, these are things that trouble puppies, and proper socialization will work wonders to make your puppy feel more at ease. Sometimes, though, things can trouble adult dogs as well, and further work on socialization may be needed.

Whether issues occur early in your dog’s life or later on, they have to be dealt with. The last thing you want is to have a dog that is going to freak out over every little thing, feel horribly stressed, and cause discomfort to those around him. So start early with the socialization, and if you need to, do a refresher course later on in your dog’s life. A checklist is always useful, because it shows you where you’ve been, where you are, and where you need to go.

Conclusion

Socialization is absolutely essential when it comes to helping your puppy become a good canine citizen. It’s not easy living with a dog that is afraid of people and unusual circumstances, and you can assume it’s also not easy being a fearful dog. So, for the sake of your dog, yourself, and the people who are likely to encounter your dog, make sure that you work on socialization in the early months.  You’ll have a happier dog, and you’ll experience a lot less stress. A well-socialized dog will be comfortable wherever he is, and will be a pleasure to be around.

Early Scent Introduction: What It Is and Why We Do It

Early scent introduction (ESI) is a training program for puppies designed to enhance their ability to identify, and react to, specific scents. Each day, the trainer introduces a strong scent to the puppy for brief intervals, and records the puppy’s reaction. The reaction is considered to be positive when the puppy shows interest in the scent, moving toward it. A negative reaction is recorded when the puppy tries to get away from the scent. And finally, when a puppy is neither interested nor disinterested in the scent, this is a neutral reaction.

Seven Years of Research

Dr. Gayle Watkins is a breeder of sporting Golden Retrievers, and over seven years ago, she began testing dogs to determine the effectiveness of ESI. This involved selecting certain puppies from her litters to receive ESI training, and others that would not receive ESI. The results were nothing short of remarkable. The dogs that participated in ESI had more scenting titles than those that did not participate, and they were achieving titles at ages of up to five years younger than the pups that had not participated.

Baby Noses: Introducing Scents to Neonate Puppies from AKC Canine Health Foundation on Vimeo.

What It Means

For practical purposes, these results mean the potential for even better companion, service, and therapy dogs. Scent abilities are often very important. Just as an example, when a dog is a companion to a child with autism, his main function is likely to be a guardian of sorts, since children with autism can have a tendency to wander or run off. If the dog is able to easily follow the child’s scent and locate him or her, that could actually be a life-saving asset. Another situation in which scent abilities can matter a great deal might be alerting an elderly person to a gas leak, or to something burning on the stove – again, there is the potential for saving a life. Service dogs can also use scent to identify the early stages of diabetic reaction, or the onset of a seizure. All these skills enhanced by ESI. Of course, not all dogs are going to be service or therapy animals.

At Shadewood Farm, we perform the Early Scent Introduction on our border collie puppies because we understand how important a dog’s sense of smell is to him and his brain function. Our dogs’ noses are 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive to smells than our human noses, depending on the dog and dog breed.

What does that mean to dogs?  According to Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog, they examine and understand the world through their noses like we see and make sense of the world with our eyes. The area in the brain that processes the data picked up by the nose is 40 times larger in dogs than humans. A dog’s ability to smell is a function of their intellect.

 

The Procedure for Early Scent Introduction

To expose your puppies to ESI, begin when they are three days old and stop at 16 days. At Shadewood Farm, we use mint, cloves, lemon, apples, grass, essential oils, cat hair, sheep wool, duck or goose feathers, chicken feathers, cloths with goat scent, leaves, leather tracking gloves, lavender, alpaca wool, and oranges.

Every day, we introduce a new scent. To do this, we pick up the puppy or sit on the floor with the puppy in our lap. We hold on to the puppy with one hand so that he does not squirm away before the scent is introduced. Then, with your other hand, we hold the scent-bearing object about half an inch away from his nose. If he wants to move toward the scent, we let him. By the same token, if he wants to move away from it, that is fine too. Then we note whether the reaction is positive, negative, or neutral. Then we repeat the procedure with the other puppies in the litter.

Early Neurological Stimulation: What It Is and Why We Do It

Over the course of time, mankind has experimented with various ways of improving performance, not just in humans, but in animals as well. The conventional wisdom has always been that early age is the best time to stimulate growth and development, and today we know with certainty that early neurological stimulation (ENS), also known as Bio Sensor training, has a huge effect on developing canines.

Using the Electrical Encephalogram (EEG), researchers have been able to measure the way in which a puppy’s brain responds to stressors like changes in muscle tension, emotional stress, and excitement, and have determined that puppies that are stimulated early in life mature more quickly, and also develop better problem-solving skills than puppies that do not receive early stimulation.

Types of Stimulation

ESN involves five types of stimulation, which should be done once a day with each puppy in the litter. They are:

  1. Tactile Stimulation – The handler holds the puppy in one hand, and then tickles it gently between its toes, using a Q-tip, for about five seconds.
  2. Head Erect – The handler holds the puppy perpendicular to the floor, head up, for about five seconds.
  3. Head Down – The handler holds the puppy perpendicular to the ground, head down, for about five seconds.
  4. Supine – The Handler holds the puppy on its back, face toward the ceiling, for about five seconds.
  5. Thermal Stimulation – The handler places the puppy on a cool, damp towel, feet down and unrestrained, for about five seconds.

None of these positions or conditions occur naturally in the early days of a puppy’s life, and this is why they are neurologically stimulating. ENS is not critical to a puppy’s development, but it has been shown to increase intellectual capacity if done properly, and to enhance performance. If you decide to proceed with ENS for your litter, though, make sure not to do the exercises more than once a day, and not to exceed the five-second limit. Too much stimulation can be as harmful as too little. Keep in mind, too, that ENS is not a substitute for regular handling and play.arly neurological stimulation

Benefits of Early Neurological Stimulation

Five main benefits have been identified in dogs that received ENS. They are:

  1. Greater ability to tolerate stress
  2. Stronger adrenal glands
  3. Improved heart rate
  4. Stronger heartbeat
  5. Enhanced disease resistance

As well, in learning tests, puppies that received ENS were found to be more competitive, and more curious than their littermates who were not stimulated. They were also calmer and less prone to reacting adversely when stressed.

Socialization

Early Neurological Stimulation must, of course, be accompanied by early socialization. If a puppy is not fully socialized by the age of 16 weeks, it may never be properly adjusted. Breeders can only do so much. ENS provides a good start, but when pet owners’ lives are so filled with work and social commitments, they may fail to properly socialize their puppy. This results in fear of strangers and other canines, and can also manifest as behavioral problems. C.L. Battaglia, in the Doberman Quarterly (1982) article “Loneliness and Boredom,” points out that digging, chewing, and other difficult behaviors are often directly attributable to a lack of socialization.

Conclusion

A small amount of stress, such as that provided by the ENS exercises outlined above, combined with early socialization, can be highly beneficial to a puppy’s growth and development. The key is to know when to stop. Over-stimulation is as bad as under-stimulation. Also, there is only a small window of opportunity for ENS and early socialization. Once that window closes, little can be done to correct the adverse consequences of too much, or too little, stimulation.

For more information about Early Neurological Stimulation, follow this link: http://www.breedingbetterdogs.com/article/early-neurological-stimulation.

Critical Periods of Development in Puppies

Many people think of puppy development as happening in just a few stages – they’re born, then their eyes open, and eight weeks later, they’re ready to leave their mother and litter mates. There is actually quite a bit more to puppy development. In fact, there are at least 10 major stages in a puppy’s development.

The Neonatal Period

This is the first 13 days in a puppy’s life. During this stage, the puppy’s eyes are closed, and he has no control over his bodily functions. The puppy can neither see nor hear, and is completely dependent on his mother. During this stage, a puppy does not bond to humans, and does not develop emotionally. He learns nothing – his brain waves are the same regardless of whether he is awake or sleeping.

During this stage, puppies should be handled regularly. This will stress them, but studies have shown that this type of mild stress at this stage and on up to five weeks is important to brain development, and results in better temperament. At this stage, the breeder’s main responsibility is simply to provide a warm, safe environment for the puppies. This is when we perform early neurological stimulation on our border collie puppies.

The Transition Period

This period lasts from 13 days up to 3 weeks. During this time, the puppy’s eyes will open, but he will not see well, and his hearing will still be limited. The puppy will have limited control over bodily functions (he will begin to eliminate without needing the stimulus of his mother licking him). He will also begin to take solid food as well as nurse on his mother. The puppy will also begin to walk.

The Awareness Stage

This stage occurs from three to four weeks. The puppy will begin to see and hear well. He becomes self-aware, meaning that he begins to understand that he, his mother, and his littermates are all dogs. He will be more responsive to external stimuli, but still need the safe, stable environment of the whelping pen.

At this stage, the breeder should careful about startling the puppies. We don’t keep the vacuum cleaner in the closet, but we run it when the puppies are eating so they will have a positive association with the noise. We clang the food bowls together so learn to anticipate a meal, much like Pavlov’s dog. Social bonding also begins at this point, and continues throughout the socialization period.

The Canine Socialization Period

From the age of three weeks to seven weeks, the puppy interacts with his mother and the rest of the litter, and becomes more interested in humans. He begins to learn the differences between his human caregivers and his dog family. He will also find his voice, and begin to bark. This is also the stage at which he will begin to bite, chase, and experiment with body postures. Puppies will begin to engage in play fighting with their littermates, and work out the hierarchy of their pack. The mother will begin to discipline unruly puppies, and the puppies will learn to accept this discipline and submit to her authority.

This is a very important stage in a puppy’s development, and it is why no responsible breeder will ever place a puppy during this time. Eight weeks is the very earliest that a puppy should leave the litter, and many breeders advocate allowing the puppies to remain with the mother and the littermates for 10 weeks. Puppies who leave the litter too soon often have difficulty accepting discipline from humans, and may also have issues with inhibiting their bite force. In fact, a Science Magazine study suggests that puppies who leave the litter too soon may never bond properly to humans.

This is the stage where you can begin exposing the puppy to new environments, and even begin training. At a mere five weeks, a puppy has the same brain waves as an adult dog, but you’re beginning with a tabula rasa – a blank slate. You can begin simple training routines, and serious socialization. It’s time to introduce new people and environments. Individual puppies should also be removed from the litter from time to time to get them used to new situations and prepare them for placement in their “forever” homes.

Human Socialization Period

This is the period between 7 and 12 weeks. Some socialization will take place while the puppy is still with the breeder. Later stages will be the responsibility of the “forever” family. At this stage, the puppy has learned from his mother how to be a dog. Now, he begins to bond with humans. This is the stage of development where we have the most influence on our dogs, and from eight weeks and on is the best time to place a puppy with his humans. The puppy already has a fully developed brain, but he lacks experience and needs to learn manners. This is also the time when a puppy is most receptive to learning.

This is the best time to place a puppy in his new home.  Mental abilities are fully formed but the pups lack experience. The puppy begins to learn, at this point, that what is normal canine behavior may be different from what is expected of him. At this stage, the puppy will have some bladder and bowel control, so this is where house training begins. According to UltimatePuppy.com, 40% of dogs who are given up to shelters are there because of potty training issues. This is very unfortunate, and very preventable. Potty training is started early, in the whelping pen and we approach with gentleness and patience. Puppies learn fast at this stage, and many will be able to sleep all night long without having an accident.

Exposure to as many humans as possible is vital during this stage. If socialization is left longer than 12 weeks, it may become impossible for your dog to overcome shyness, and you could even end up with an aggression problem. There is a very small window of opportunity for human socialization. It usually starts at about 7 weeks, and ends at around 12 weeks – no later than 14. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends that puppies should be fully socialized by 12 weeks.

Fear Impact Period

This stage lasts from 8 to 11 weeks. During this stage of a puppy’s development, you should avoid doing anything at all that might frighten or hurt him. What the puppy learns and experiences at this stage will affect him for the rest of his life. Training sessions should be kept short, and with a focus on fun. You may have heard that dogs have short-term memories, but the fact is that puppy will remember forever anything bad that happens to him during this period.

Seniority Classification Period

This stage occurs between the ages of 13 weeks to 4 months. It’s also called the “cutting stage,” for two reasons – because this is the time when the puppy cuts his teeth, and also the apron strings. This is the point where he may begin to “test” you, trying to determine if you really want to be the alpha in your relationship. At this stage, positive reinforcement is vital – praise him for good behavior, and provide structure and leadership. Don’t delay training, because by four months, the puppy’s attitude and personality are going to be essentially etched in stone. If you get it wrong, then you will be in for remedial training, which may or may not work.

Juvenile Period

This stage occurs between the socialization stage and puberty, usually when you have had the puppy for about a month. This should not be a difficult period, provided that you have been vigilant about training.

Flight Instinct Period

This stage occurs from four to eight months, and can last for a few days, or several weeks. During this time, your puppy will again begin to test you. You could think of this as similar to the teen years in humans – behavior problems that you thought had been corrected could recur, and could become even more problematic. Be consistent and patient – this too shall pass.

Adolescent Period

This begins with puberty, and continues until the dog reaches sexual maturity. Again, the dog will probably test you. He wants to make sure that the rules are the same as they always were, and he might think that the rules should be changed. He may refuse to come when called, even if he always obeyed before. Now would be a good time to enroll in a second obedience or manners class to keep everyone on track.

Second Fear Impact Period

This stage begins at six months, and can continue for a little more than a year. At this stage, the dog is beginning to develop self-confidence, but can still experience setbacks. The dog may become fearful of new people, situations, or even objects. It is important not to use force in order to make the dog face what is frightening him. Again, be consistent and patient. Avoid placing your dog in situations that you cannot control (aggressive dogs at the dog park, for instance). At this point, you need to understand that although your dog may be fully mature physically, he might still be a baby in his mind. Attempts to overcome fear by means of force could lead to aggression, so be gentle.

This is also another point where your dog may challenge you. This does not happen so much with smaller breeds, but larger breeds of dogs often do not fully mature until they are a year and a half old, and some not until three years. At any point during this period, a dog can develop increased aggression and an interest in challenging you for leadership.

Regular training during this period is vital. Like most teenagers, it’s important that they understand that there are boundaries. This does not mean that you have to be harsh with him, but you do need to be firm and consistent. Praise him for good behavior. If you feel that you are in out of your depth, seek assistance from a professional trainer.

Young Adulthood

When your dog reaches the age of a year-and-a-half to two years, he is a young adult. He will have developed a sense of his environment and connection to you, his family. If you missed anything along the way while socializing your puppy, this is where problems could occur. Keep in mind again that small dogs will mature more quickly than large dogs, so depending on the breed of dog you have, this stage could occur at a year, or might not manifest until the dog is considerably older. Be alert to things like object guarding, hesitance or fear when meeting new people or encountering new situations, or anything else that makes you uncomfortable with the way your dog is behaving. Then work hard on training to correct the problem.

Maturity

Maturity in dogs occurs between the ages of one and four years. When we say maturity in this context, we don’t necessarily mean physical or sexual maturity – rather, it is the point at which your dog becomes emotionally stable, and his reactions to people, situations, and different environments are reasonably predictable. If you have trained and socialized your dog properly, then you will know at what point he is no longer a puppy, and you are to be congratulated on guiding him successfully throughout the critical periods of development.