Jump start behavioral health in your puppy with socialization!

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The days of keeping your puppy confined to the house until 16 weeks of age are over! The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (www.avsabonline.org), a well respected group of veterinarians who share an interest in understanding behavior in animals, believe it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive socialization as early as 7-8 weeks of age after a minimum of one set of vaccines and deworming at least 7 days prior to the first class, with other healthy dogs in an environment that is clean, not in places such as dog parks.

Socialization is the process by which pets develop a relationship with animals of their own species, other species, and humans. With adequate socialization starting as a young puppy, pets are often able to maintain these relationships for life, helping to prevent behavior problems. Although socialization should be continued throughout life, pets are more likely to be defensive, fearful, and possibly aggressive later in life if not properly socialized during their sensitive socialization period, between 3 and 16 weeks of age.

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Here is a checklist of some, but not all, experiences your puppy should have before 16 weeks of age. Always associate the experiences with high value rewards such as treats or a tennis ball. Every puppy is different so make sure to go slow if your puppy shows signs of fear or anxiety. If your puppy shows aggression or extreme fear contact your veterinarian immediately.

___ Veterinarian/ Veterinary technicians

___ Person wearing hat

___ Other animals (including non-dog)

___ You with vacuum

___ Person (child & adult) on bike & roller blades

___ Jogger

___Stranger on street

___ You mowing grass

___ Person with umbrella, open and close umbrella

___ Toddler (supervised)

___ Person with coat, take coat on and off

___ Man with beard

___ Drive – thru window or toll booth

___ Children playing ball

___ Walk on different surfaces (soft, hard, unsteady)

___ Mailman

___ Person with wheelchair, walker, stroller

___ Rain

___ Person in uniform (police, etc)

___ You with hair dryer

___ Handle your puppy on a daily basis (ears, mouth, paws, belly, tail, etc)

Remember: Avoid socializing your puppy in areas frequented by dogs of unknown vaccination status such as dog parks.

Here is a list of recommended books to use as a guide in raising your puppy:

  • The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey
  • An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet: Dog Behavior by Ian Dunbar, Ph.D., MRCVS
  • Raising a Behaviorally Healthy Puppy by Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D. and Daniel Estep, Ph.D

What other experiences can you think of that will be important for your puppy? Let me know for the next blog!

– Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB (Veterinary Behaviorist)