Hi, it’s Linda from Cause and Effect Dog Training again.

In video 3, we’re going to cover a really important topic – socializing. Socializing can be abit of an unfortunate term because to humans, it means something totally different than it does to dogs. I prefer to use the term exposure.

As humans, socializing means to go out, meet and have a good time with other people. However, socializing for a dog, isn’t what it means at all. When we first get a puppy, it’s really important to get him out experiencing his world way before his vaccinations are finished. And I’ll cover that in a minute.

The reason we do that is a puppy has what we call a critical period that happens anywhere between four to six weeks and ends around 14 to 16 weeks. During that time, everything your puppy experiences good, bad, or neutral will stick with him for life. It’s also the time in the dog’s life, where he generalizes what he experiences and sees, so it’s vital that you get your puppy out to experience the world in a positive or even a neutral way. You need to avoid any negative associations, however it also needs to be done safely.

The vets, by large, prefer dogs to not be out and about in the community until the puppy vaccinations are finished. Although I absolutely can understand that, the reality is that more dogs are put down in rescue centers and pounds, because of behavioral issues that could have been avoided had they had that critical period socialization than ever contract viruses like parvo.

So, how do we do it safely? We take our puppy to places that he’s going to be as an adult. We give him good experiences. We can carry him, so he’s not contacting the ground. We avoid porous surfaces like dirt, grass, things like that, where viruses can be found. We can take them to areas where there’s cement, sitting outside on cement footpaths in various locations, car parks etc. Take your puppy, sit with him, and let him watch the world go by. He’s experiencing life. He’s experiencing the sights, the sounds, everything that’s going on.

There’s a big hardware door chain here in Australian who lets dogs into their shop. That’s a great place to take a puppy for an experience. He’s in a trolley. There’s lots of sounds. There’s lots of sights and smells. He can see other dogs. He can see other people.

You need to also give your dog tactile experiences. He needs to walk on different surfaces. For example, if you’re walking down the foot path on a cement path, there might be a metal grate in the middle of it. Walk your puppy on that. Get him used to different feelings under his feet. You can also lure him with food to get him up onto slightly raised surfaces, so he is a little bit higher off the ground thus building self confidence. All of these things will make your puppy more resilient and build up his positive feelings for the world in which he’s going to live.

The reality is some puppies are going to be a little bit timid or a little bit reactive to different things, because they don’t know what it is. The most important thing for you to remember is don’t force your puppy into those situations. That can also include people or other dogs. Instead, go back to a distance where he can see these things, but feeling relatively okay about it. And you can reward him and give him a good experience. Eventually and gradually, you can begin to work towards making the distance shorter. But if your puppy is showing signs that he might be timid – he could have his tail tucked, sometimes barking or backing away – those signs are your puppy telling you that he doesn’t want to go into that situation or have that interaction. Listen to him and back it off a bit.

The last thing that I’d like to make a point about is a bit of a contentious issue and that’s dog parks. As I said earlier in the video, socializing and exposure isn’t about your dog meeting a lot of dogs. He certainly needs to be able to function with other dogs around but you are wanting him to remain engaged with you and not other strange, random dogs – or people for that matter. Dog parks, by in large, can have life long effects on your dog. If you take a young puppy into a dog park, especially an off lead dog park where the owners aren’t necessarily watching too closely what their dogs are doing, and your puppy has a negative experience, then that can remain with him for life. Generally speaking, dog parks are not a good idea for socializing. And they’re not really the greatest idea for adult dogs, either.