Attention Puppy Parents! Get the Facts on Puppy Socialization

What Else Can a Pet Parent Do?

In addition to attending puppy classes, pet parents can take the following steps to nurture and encourage appropriate behaviors for life:

1. Increase the environmental complexity. This means providing positive and gradual exposure to his new environment. Car rides, visits to friends’ homes, and exposure to the surrounding neighborhood can be good primers for later life experiences.

2. Teach your puppy that he can eat without interruption. There is no need to intrude upon a puppy while he’s eating. Food is a valuable resource for your dog, and he should be able to enjoy mealtime without threat of interruption. Interfering with mealtime can make puppies hyper vigilant and could incite protective or aggressive behaviors.

3. Teach the puppy to relinquish an item. Show that dropping an item results in a reward by offering a food treat and then giving the item back to the pup. In this way, relinquishment gets rewarded, and the item is not always taken away.

4. Give the puppy a place to relax. Teach him to rest on a designated mat or bed near the front door, and reward him for staying there when guests enter the home. This will help diminish his territorial response when visitors arrive. Crate training is also a great way to give your pet a safe place to rest undisturbed.

5. Use walks for simple, safe training. On walks, ask your puppy for some simple behaviors (responding to his name, allowing you to pet him, or sitting on command).

When walking on leash, it’s OK to avoid contact with unfamiliar dogs and their owners. This unnatural exposure can result in a fear-based or aggressive response. Consider changing direction or moving aside and rewarding your puppy for sitting and waiting while the strangers pass. Encounters with new dogs (and people) are best done in more controlled situations.

Nature or Nurture?

The age-old debate of whether behavior originates from a genetic or environmental influence has been solved in dog development for years: It’s both. Without a healthy genetic makeup, dogs may not respond to stress in a normal, measured manner or socialize easily. Likewise, a genetically complete puppy who is kept isolated from other dogs and people can suffer extreme fear in social situations and rely on aggression as a means to cope.

So responsible breeding, combined with early, appropriate socialization (both during the primary and secondary socialization periods), can go a long way toward creating a pet who’s coping and thriving in the complicated world we have asked him to join.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of HealthyPet magazine.

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