Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Puppy Socialization

Socialization is more about normalization then socializing!

Often people think socialization is meeting lots of new people and dogs, but the term socialization covers a much broader scope. Socializing your puppy means you are providing experiences that they can observe in a safe environment. This applies to anything and everything that is normal in your part of the world. Urban areas may have more traffic sounds and crowds, while urban areas have wildlife noises & critters running across the path. If you live in one area, but frequently visit another you need to socialize or normalize both situations while the puppy is young.

Puppies that you want to be well adjusted adult dogs that can accompany you to pet friendly places need to be socialized to all 5 senses; sight, sound, smell, taste & touch. The window of opportunity to do correct socialization is limited from 8 wks old to 16 wks old. During that critical window you need to expose your pup to a wide variety of objects and environments. Anything you don't expose them to during this time can easily cause fear to set in when they go thru the crazy teen period which typically starts around 8 to 9 months old and lasts till almost 2 yrs old. It's much easier to socialize properly as a puppy then to address fears later in life.

View my socialization list on Google Docs  Remember, my dogs are service dogs so this is a large list. But you can download this to Excel and customize it for your surroundings.

Puppies should walk on a wide variety of surfaces including carpet, area rugs, slippery tile floors, air vents, and many more floor surfaces. There is also a ton of outdoor surfaces including grass, dirt roads, stone walks, concrete sidewalks, pavement in parking lots, wood chips, etc. We also practice on unusual surfaces, many of which can be found at a local playground such as slippery slides, wobbly bridges, oddly shaped stairs, and so forth.

They also need to hear a ton of sounds at various volumes. Again playgrounds are a great resource with kids running, swinging, yelling & so much more. We also play a wide variety of movies including Disney movies with lots of singing, animal movies with dogs barking, dragons snorting, farm animals and so on. Right now, my husband is watching the whole Harry Potter series, which is non-stop sounds and background noise. Then in the summer there are typically all kinds of community events including outdoor concerts, parades, and festivals.

Then last but not least, puppies need a wide variety of smells. Household smells include food cooking, various shampoos & lotions, bathroom smells, odors on people & other pets. Hiking trails have the smells of other dogs and wildlife. Pet stores tend to be overwhelming for many puppies because there is simply too many smells for your pup to process. I push scent exposure even farther because my dogs are task trained service dogs to find specific items based on scent. Puppies can be taught how to use their nose. I like to start by teaching puppy how to find the treat in my hand.  I will say their name and hand feed them a treat or piece of kibble.  If they don't immediately look at you, say their name the pass your hand under their nose.  Once they start to pair their name with food, you can use this to develop the early stages of recall.

Games that help with socialization

"Find It" is one of my Go-to games for rainy days or any down day that I want to give my puppy some mental work in a fun way because exercise is out of the picture. What makes this game so awesome for our dogs is that it’s easy to start simple so they can learn to use their nose, but it’s also easy to keep changing it up to make it constantly harder so that we are challenging our dogs.
Eventually I want my dog to be able to search a room or the whole house for the object they are looking for. But you can't start a puppy it a big area like a room.
  1. Start encouraging my pup to sniff the kibble in my hand. That's it, sniffing leads to treats.
  2. Next is learning to find kibble in a snuffle box with a few distraction objects.
  3. Next is figuring out how to find and get to the kibble that is slightly hidden. In this video Azul has a few newspaper balls, each with a few pieces of kibble inside. Azul can use any means possible to find the kibble; unrolling, tearing, dragging, or whatever they want to the newspaper ball. But eventually they figure out the quickest way to get to the food.

Snuffle box

You can build a snuffle box with items commonly found in your house and it's a great way to help your puppy use up some mental energy. With puppies, I will feed a meal this way every few days. Find a cardboard or plastic box that your puppy can easily touch the bottom in. Then put various items in the box such as newspaper balls, crumpled up junk mail, water bottles, plastic lids & bowls, dog toys, knotted up socks, etc. You can use anything that you won't be upset if it gets chewed and won't hurt the puppy if they eat a small piece. Once your box is filled with objects, simply pour your puppies normal kibble in and around the box. You can do a few pieces at a time or the whole meal. If your pup is struggling, reduce the number of items in the box, even backing up to just one item and over several days add in more items. Once pup is used to all the items in the box, start switching out items getting rid of anything that may be damaged and replacing it with something else that is new.

Puppy Obstacle Course

To entertain a curious puppy use common household items to build a puppy obstacle course. Provide lots of different surfaces that your pup can climb on, move around, smell, taste and hear! I love things from my recycle bin;

  • cardboard including boxes that have been flattened, boxes sturdy enough for walking on & paper towel rolls.
  • Plastic of various shapes, colors & textures including pop bottles, old bowls & lids that no longer have matches, disposable cups.
  • Metal cookie sheets and muffin pans.
  • The choices are endless!

Put a few different items in your play area. Let pup explore while your calmly supervising nearby. Move things around slowly, rolling balls across flat surfaces & tossing tugs into objects. Just don't get too crazy or move items too fast or you might scare your pup. Switch out 1-2 items a day for new items. Don't want to use any items that you don't want chewed on or heavy items that might fall on your pup. Let pup explore these items for about 10 minutes, then pick them up and put them away for the next session. You do want to make sure your pup has access to puppy toys whenever they are awake. But only do this make shift obstacle course when you can supervise and watch for signs of stress and signs of over excitement. And as always, watch for signs that your pup may need a potty break.

Socialization for Service Dogs

There are a lot of things to consider when preparing a pup for service dog training.
First and foremost, safety first! At this age you can only visit pet friendly places. (At least in my state that doesn't cover Service Dog in Training - SDiT access.) However your young puppy doesn't have all their vaccines so it's not safe to be in areas that have been frequented by unknown dogs.
There are plenty of pet friendly places you can visit. Besides pet stores and farm stores that are visited by lots of dogs, there are also hardware stores, craft stores and many places that doesn't sell food. There are also tons of outdoor places you can visit including parks, hiking trail entrances and various parking lots. You can get tons of socialization in by spending 5-10 minutes hanging out in your car near busy stores. schools, playgrounds, etc. Even running thru a drive thru can help your pup see friendly people without being touched, sniff a wide variety of smells, hear intercoms & traffic. Bank drive thru's offer additional stimulation. The options are unending!
In everything you do, keep safety in mind. Carry the pup thru pet friendly locations to avoid contact with surfaces that are unsafe. Carrying the puppy also helps them to feel safe and relaxed with you which can help strengthen your bond. Keep exposures to new things short and positive, 5-10 minutes is all it takes. Pair experiences with good things; treats, toys, encouraging or loving speaking.
Be your pup's advocate! You get to decide who pets your pup and when. It's important to meet lots of different types of people, all ages and abilities! I like to start with calm, happy people then as pup gets more comfortable slowly increase the excitement level in people as you continue to encourage your pup to remain calm. For example: Azul loves kids, girls are his favorite and make him most excitable. So if a girl is calm and wants to say hi, I'm more likely to say yes. But if a girl is more energetic, squealing puppy, I'm more likely to say no. When you're in any public spot, puppies are sure to draw attention! Be prepared for that!
Avoid pet stores, dog parks, and other places frequently visited by strange dogs.
At home provide you pup a safe place to relax. This could be a crate, puppy pen, or other contained location. Keep other dogs, children, etc. Out of the safe place while pup is relaxing. Read my Puppy Relaxation Protocol to learn about helping puppy calm down.

If your interested in more puppy raising information, consider joining my Facebook group called

Positively Puppy Paws!

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