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Early socialization essential for puppies

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POSTED July 15, 2013 12:50 a.m.

DEAR DIDI:  We just got a Doberman puppy. She is 9 weeks old. We took her in for her second set of puppy shots and asked our veterinarian for training recommendations. He said we should not take her anywhere until she has all three sets of shots. What is your opinion on how and when to begin training?  puppy mommy in Lathrop

DEAR PUPPY MOMMY: Statistically speaking, more dogs lose their lives each year due to behavioral problems than medical issues.  This is often directly related to the fact that most dogs are not properly socialized.  A puppy’s critical socialization period is between 4 and 14 weeks of age. This is the time frame in which they are best able to form new relationships with other dogs and other species (human, feline, equine, etc) and to accept new stimuli (sights, sounds, smells, etc)  A new owner’s optimal time frame is 8 to 14 weeks. You and your puppy are in that phase right now! Therefore, NOW  is the time to be working on socializing.  Despite this growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of proper socialization, many veterinarians, puppy stores, and breeders continue to discourage puppy classes until all of the puppy vaccinations have been received.  This is at 16 weeks of age if everything is done on time. While their intentions are noble, they fail to acknowledge the critical importance of proper socialization.

Socialization is the act of exposing your puppy to something or someone in a controlled manner. Parvo is certainly a dangerous virus that can take a puppy’s life in a matter of days. The virus is capable of surviving on the ground for up to two years despite sun and rain. It is transmitted through the feces of infected dogs. We obviously want the best for our dogs both psychologically and physically. In order to take care of your dogs’ socio-psychological needs without jeopardizing her health you should take her places without letting her down on the ground. The biggest danger areas will be where other dogs have eliminated. The grassy areas outside your local pet store are not a good idea. Dog parks are a big no-no. She can, however, go in your car where she will see, hear and smell all kinds of new things. Dog strollers are a fantastic way to get your new puppy out to see and experience the world while keeping her safe.  Carry her anywhere you wish while she is small enough to do so.

A Doberman is instinctively a protective dog. If we can give her the knowledge base, at a young age, of what things are normal in our daily lives she will better be able to make judgment calls as an adult instead of being reactive. Unsocialized dogs do not learn to tell the difference between things that are truly dangerous and those that are not. They lunge at people that try to hand business cards to their owners, growl at the UPS man trying to deliver a box to your home, or act as if they are scared of everything leading owners to believe the previous owner may have abused  the dog. The bottom line is that behavior problems are the number one cause of euthanasia in the United States, more than all other disease processes combined. Behavior problems are the most common reason cited for re-homing dogs and dog bites have increased dramatically in recent years according to the CD

Appropriately conducted puppy classes in an enclosed, sterile classroom are the easiest way to expose your dog to people, dogs, sounds, movements, and different situations.  I provide my students with a two page checklist of all the things you should try to expose your dog to while they are in their socialization phase.  Such as, small children, people with hats, bicycles, skateboards, wheelchairs, smokers, men with beards, sudden noises, sudden movements, balloons, and much more.  A good puppy class will NOT be about obedience!  Obedience can be taught at any age. Instead focus on showing your new baby things that will be normal in her world living with  us humans and she will grow up to be a well-balanced, confident adult dog that will be happy-go-lucky and friendly when encountering new people, animals, places and things.



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