The Social Dog
Studies show the best time to wean a puppy is at 7 weeks. This is considered the most optimum time for the bond to form with humans and yet, still be capable of healthy bonding with others of his kind.
Even though your pup may be eating solid food as early as 4-5 weeks, to remove him from his litter too early can create an imbalance of how well he can relate to others of his kind. Also, if he is left too long with his litter or mom the pup can have a difficult time dealing with human interaction. Usually this won’t be obvious with his actual owner, but is evident when friends come to visit; he may act fearful or shy and even aggressive in place of being over the moon with enthusiasm to greet guests.
At 5-7 weeks it will become obvious that mom is beginning to spend less and less time with her pups as they need her less; it is a very important time for your puppy to learn how to act like a dog in a family environment as he interacts with his littermates. He will be exposed to all of the body language postures of adult dogs; this is a learning experience for your puppy where his hunting and prey drive is displayed as is dominance and submission as he and his littermates “play act” out their roles with each other.
A well balanced dog is a social dog. This means your dog is comfortable in social environments that our society presents. This will allow your pooch to be the best companion possible because he is able to adjust to the things in a busy, active and normal environment.
Your dog is a social animal. He wants and needs to be with others of his kind. When you remove him from his litter, you become the surrogate and now his greatest need is to be with you and part of your social structure. This social structure in the dog world is referred to as the “pack”.
Your dog now looks to you to fulfill his social needs. He needs time to be with you and the family, but he will also need to learn to be comfortable being without you. You can’t babysit your dog 24-7 yet he would prefer that you do. The remarkable thing about our dog is that he is so adaptable and incredibly trainable. Once we understand how the dog naturally responds, we can utilize this understanding to help us build a balanced and healthy relationship that meets both his needs and ours at the same time.
It will be important that you establish yourself as the social leader in your dog’s world or you will see your dog confused and stressed by feeling the need to fill the empty role of leadership that all packs naturally have. Your training should provide these needed boundaries for your dog.
New experiences for your puppy should happen early so that he learns to adjust and thinks these occurrences are normal and standard in his world.
How early should these new experiences begin? At 8-12 weeks of age studies show that the ability to accept new things is optimal. Show your puppy all the things at this early age that you will want him to be comfortable around when he is an adult. This includes people, children (very important), noises, animals, car rides, objects and different footing. The more stimuli your young friend is exposed to the more he will be relaxed when exposed later in life to new things.
Ask for help from your friends.
Take your puppy as many places as you can early on so that he begins to get exposure to the world you will want him to be a part of. Give him the opportunity to meet as many friends as possible and try to expose him daily to small children if possible.
Some veterinarians encourage that your puppy go places early to get healthy exposure and other veterinarians are very cautious about taking your pup out until all vaccinations have been given, which is generally at about 4 months of age.
The problem with the latter is that a 4 month old puppy that has never been out of your home or back yard could be compared to a 13 year old teenager who has never left the house. The pup grows up much more quickly than a human child does and early socialization is very important to healthy development for him. If your veterinarian does not encourage your puppy to be out in public until fully vaccinated try to find alternatives to giving him good healthy exposure to the world. It is a good idea to stay away from the dog park, pet stores like Petsmart, and active parks that dogs frequent in large numbers. Getting in the car and going places with you daily will help your pup with one type of good socialization; learning to be comfortable in the car and with the sounds of traffic and other everyday noises. Taking your pup places like Home Depot and letting him ride in the cart should be good exposure. Also, going places like coffee shops is a good idea but keep your pup on your lap to eliminate contact with germs on the ground from other dogs.
Other dogs, noises, obstacles and ground exposure.
Puppy socialization classes are one way to expose your puppy to new experiences, but be careful that the exposure is the right kind of exposure for your puppy. For instance, if your pup thinks it’s social hour every time he encounters another of his kind, but the other dog he is encountering is not as keen about playing, your dog could be an overly social dog that creates problems around other dogs instead of dealing well with the exposure. This could cause him to create a conflict or aggressive move by another dog if they don’t like the way your dog is acting. In other words your dog should be able to handle being around other dogs, but not so wild or excited that he loses self control and gets himself into trouble.
Handle your puppy everywhere.
This is another important part of socialization. While a pup, get him used to having his ears looked at, his feet touched and his toenails messed with. Look into his mouth and overall make every part of his body a positive when you touch these areas. Use food to help your pup if he seems uncomfortable. Reward for allowing you to touch and area that is not comfortable for your pup.
Socialization plays such an important role in your dog’s life that if he misses out on it you may find some serious and unwanted behaviors are the result.