Top Dog Tips - Socializing PuppiesSundays are traditionally a day of relaxation, spending time with family, and participating in some of your favorite activities. One of my favorite things to do on Sunday afternoons is catch up on some reading. Since I work for a website dedicated to educating pet parents about all things dog, it’s pretty obvious that I have a love for canines and enjoy learning about them as much as I can.

I’m passionate about educating you, my readers, about the things that I find important about canines, and I would also love to learn more about the things that you find important as well.

The more we know, the better we can care for our beloved companions, and isn’t that what we all want? This new Sunday Recap column will be just that – a recap of some articles that I’ve read over the course of the week that I found important enough to share with you.

This week I decided to read up on the importance of socializing a puppy. All too often I take my girls (two boxers named Maddie and Chloe) for a walk on a public trail, or to the dog park, and we meet a dog that clearly is not very well socialized. Some of them are so overactive and hyper that they jump all over my girls, and some we just stay away from because they certainly don’t seem very friendly.

When I meet dogs like this I can’t help but think of the impact that proper socialization (or lack thereof in this case) has on a dog and their quality of life. Dogs that are well socialized can travel with their owners and are happy virtually everywhere they go. These dogs enjoy playing with other dogs, kids, and adults. In my opinion, their quality of life is top-notch in the dog world.

Dogs that are not well socialized are scared if they leave their home. That’s the only safe place that they know, and they do not enjoy leaving. They don’t get to enjoy playing with other animals or exploring new territories with their owner.

I believe that it’s a dog owner’s responsibility to socialize their pets in an effort to give them the best quality of life possible. That’s why I spent this week reading up on the importance of socializing dogs and what experts in the field believe is the best way to do it. I’ll highlight some of the best articles I found for you.

The Importance of Socializing Puppies

I think the ASPCA is a great resource for dog owners, dog lovers, and anyone looking to learn more about the canine species. If I'm looking for information on a common problem or a specific question that I have, I usually always check out what the ASPCA says about it first. As I suspected, they had some great information about socializing puppies.

Their page on Socializing Your Puppy has some great information about the basics of when to begin socialization training and some ideas for how to go about it. I also found information in their article about the threat of disease while socializing puppies because they have not yet had their vaccinations.

  • Most young puppies aren’t fully protected against the diseases we vaccinated them for until they’ve had all of their puppy shots. This is mainly because the antibodies they get from their mother can interfere with the ability of the vaccine to have its full effect. Even though puppies’ immune systems are still developing during their early months, if we wait until a puppy has all of his shots before socializing him, we miss our chance to do it. He’ll simply be too old. The good news is that if you take some commonsense precautions while socializing your puppy, the risk of infection is quite small compared to the much larger risk of your puppy developing serious behavior problems with fear and aggression later in life.

A lot of dog owners don't realize that they should begin socializing their puppies at such a young age. I know I never thought about socializing my girls before they had all their puppy shots. Lucky for me, I come from a dog loving family and everyone wanted to see my girls when I first brought them home. Not to mention my entire family has dogs as well, and they all came to visit too. I guess you could say my girls were well socialized on accident.

Dr. Sophia Yin is well known in the veterinary field. She has an excellent website and has written many great books on everything from handling problematic dogs to how to start a pet business. I read an article on her blog this week that really goes into great detail about all the little things, like letting your dog experience walking on different surfaces, that you wouldn't normal think would have much to do with socializing your pet.

  • Probably everyone knows a dog who’s afraid of walking on metal manhole covers in the street or grates on the sidewalk. Or dogs who won’t step on wet grass to go potty. By exposing puppies to different surfaces when they are young we can greatly decrease the likelihood they will be afraid of walking on a variety of surfaces later in life. This exposure to different surfaces is something that can easily be started by the breeder-especially since the sense of touch is well developed, even at birth.

Dr. Yin also wrote an excellent article for the Pet Health Network about socialization last December. This one talks more about specific research that has been done on canine socialization.

  • The pups socialized starting at 5 weeks of age were significantly more attracted to humans than puppies that started socialization at 2, 3, and 9 weeks of age. The low scores for the 2-and 3-week-old pups were due to their immature motor skills; however the low scores in the 9-week olds occurred because these puppies tended to avoid the handler. They were fearful! Luckily, by the end of the week of socialization all except for the two-week olds were equally attracted to the handler.

I love articles that state specific research to back up their facts. Not because I don't trust the author, especially one with the credentials of Dr. Yin, but I really enjoy learning the background of the research. Sometimes reading the research can be tough though, because it's all scientific jargon which can be hard to decipher.

Jules Nye is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), and she writes for PetExpertise sometimes. I really enjoy her columns because they break down the jargon into information that pet parents like myself can understand.

  • There is an extremist viewpoint from some veterinarians advising puppies should not go, do, meet, or interact with anyone, anything, anywhere, until the puppy has had all its vaccinations (which is around four months old.) You might as well put your puppy in a plastic bubble. This is about equal to a 12 year old child. If you lived in “a plastic bubble” until you were 12, how socially functional would you be? You wouldn’t. This method is detrimentalto a dog’s mental health!

     On the flip side, there is an extremist viewpoint from some professional behaviorists          advising puppies should go, do, meet, or interact with anyone, anything, anywhere.          This exposure, while having an extremely well adjusted social pet is senseless as well.        There are diseases and sicknesses out in the world that can kill puppies or make them      very ill. And if you have a sick puppy, then you can’t socialize him anyway. This                method is detrimental to a dog’s physical health!

Most websites do break it down fairly well, like The Partnership for Animal Welfare (PAW). Their column on puppy socialization is well written, although lengthy. It's full of great information on everything from the principals of socialization to the best ways to socialize your dog.

They really go into detail about the reasons socialization is so important and what it means to your dog. Dogs are pack animals; they aren't used to being alone.

  • Dogs depend on their owners to be leaders, to teach them proper behavior, and to manage situations – not just when the dogs are puppies, but throughout their lives. In addition, dogs depend on pack order for a sense of security. The owner should be the Alpha – meaning leader, not bully. Keep in mind that if a dog can't count on his owner for leadership, he is not likely to listen when the owner does try to command his attention.

     Routine and consistency result in happier, calmer and better socially integrated dogs.        Be consistent; “no” should always mean no. And be fair; you can't expect your dog to        understand you unless you take the time to train and educate him. Dog folks help            their dogs and themselves by polishing their canine parenting skills. When a dog is          confident in his owner, and when a dog is well-socialized, he can stay calm in                    potentially threatening situations in public and in the home.

Many articles skimmed over the topic of training aids that can be used to help socialize your pet, but the Karen Pryor Clicker Training article that I read talked about some of the tools that could benefit pet parents who want to socialize their dogs and may need a little help.

I know what you're thinking, “of course it talked about training tools, it's a clicker training website,” but the thing I really enjoy about it is that they aren't trying to push their training aids on you. Don't get me wrong, there are parts of the site that certainly try to persuade you to buy their products, but Aidan Bindoff, the articles author, talks about the training that needs to accompany canine socialization and all the toys, treats, and tools that can help you succeed. He leaves the persuasion to other pages on the site.

  • Dogs learn in two ways—they learn by association (classical conditioning) and they learn by consequence (operant conditioning). Classical conditioning occurs when a stimulus is paired with something that elicits what behaviorists call an “unconditioned response.” When you are socializing a puppy, pairing something in the environment with something the dog already enjoys is classical conditioning. For example, a food treat might often follow when a pup meets children, thereby pairing something good (food) with something in the environment (children). Operant conditioning occurs when a pup learns to do something to get something he wants. An example could be discovering that a food treat often follows when the pup sits and allows children to pet him. Here, food is given as a consequence of sitting and allowing children to pet. 

The only question I had left after reading through all of these articles was, “Is there such a thing as too much socialization?” I hadn't stumbled across the answer yet, so I decided to search to find out, and I actually came across a great article written for Dog Star Daily by Dr. Ian Dunbar. I had inadvertently saved the best for last.

This article is clear, concise, and well written. It answered all my questions and then some. If I had stumbled across this one in the beginning I probably wouldn't have read so many articles! And yes, he answered my initial question as well.

  • Puppies are highly unlikely to be dangerously stressed by “too much” socialization and handling. On the contrary, it is a lack of early socialization that condemns many puppies to a miserable quality of life. Anxiety towards people is excruciatingly painful for dogs, especially when forced to confront people every day. Also, living with an anxious or fearful dog is not much fun for their owners, who cannot enjoy walking their dogs and even have to put the dog in a different room when people visit.

My goal with this column is to help educate readers about anything and everything dog. From pet products to grooming routines and everything in between, I’ll highlight some articles every week about hot topics and important issues relating to our canine companions. Hopefully you'll have the time to check a few of them out yourself or, if you're like me, you may be compelled to read them all.

I’ll try to focus on a new topic each week, or maybe two closely related topics, but I’d love to have your input as well. If there is a dog-related topic that you’d like to hear about, please share your ideas in the comments of any of my Sunday Recap articles and I’ll be happy to take your suggestions into consideration. Also, if you’ve done some research on your own and have found a great read that should be shared with dog owners, please feel free to post a link to it in the comments below as well.

Happy reading!

Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.