Owner’s typically bring their puppies home when a puppy is between 8 and 10 weeks old. Although not yet fully vaccinated, it’s important that the socialization process not be put on hold due to the puppies lack of vaccines. There are plenty of relatively safe areas that owners should be taking their puppies to ensure the young pup is exposed to adults, children, other dogs, cats, sights, sounds, and normal human-world stimuli which could otherwise be very scary for a young dog had they not been exposed to it during their early puppyhood. The things we typically see dogs afraid of are:
- Large rolling objects (carts, trash bins)
- Dogs barking
- Bigger dogs
- Metal surfaces and grates
- Strangers handling them
Puppies can easily be counter conditioned to feel good about all of these things with the use of high value treats and patience on your part. It’s important to use a high value treat with your puppy because when dogs are stressed they often times will ignore lower valued food items. We encourage owners not to be afraid to give their dogs “people food”, as feeding things like chicken, ham, turkey etc., will not make your dog a beggar. Begging is a habit created by feeding from or near the table or kitchen. As far as your puppy is concerned, there is no such thing as “people” food, just food. With that said, do not be afraid to use higher value foods to encourage your puppy to enjoy otherwise stressful or scary situations.
As long as your puppy is not desperately trying to escape his collar or leash, it is OK for your puppy to feel nervous and afraid. Feeling scared initially is all a part of the process. You do not want him to be terrified or panicked, but being startled and initially trying to run away is a normal self preservation behavior. Help your puppy work through his fears by getting his attention with a treat, redirecting him to walk towards you and then offering the treat. Show him that if you are not scared, he does not need to be scared. As soon as your puppy calms down and isn’t showing any more signs of fear (tail tucked, hypervigilant looking around, the infamous “im not walking” donkey maneuver), go ahead and move away from the thing he found scary and praise him for recovering quickly.
It’s repeated, low level exposure to safe things that help puppies develop into confident adult dogs. It is also OK for adult dogs to become startled — but if properly socialized during puppyhood they should quickly recover and look to you for reassurance and guidance.
You can take your new puppy just about anywhere except for high dog traffic areas. As much as I love the veterinarian and commend vets for taking every precaution to keep our pets healthy, outside a vet clinic is probably the most dangerous place a puppy can be because that is where all the sick dogs relieve themselves too! Make sure to keep your new puppy in your arms whenever you are unsure about a certain area. Places that we recommend our clients to go which are generally puppy safe and dog disease safe are:
- An outside patio of a restaurant (lots of people and well behaved healthy dogs)
- Home depot (lots of sights, SOUNDS, and moving things there)
- School parking lots (when school lets out and all the activity is happening! Great for socializing a puppy to kids)
A well socialized puppy should have at least a HUNDRED new experiences EVERY WEEK so that by the time it is 16 weeks old there isn’t anything that puppy hasn’t seen or experienced. Take note of the things your puppy is fearful of, and if you are having difficult socializaing your puppy to certain things that’s what we’re here for!