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Puppies and Socialization

By: Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna

If you follow my Twitter feed (@DrLHVet) you will know one thing—I LOVE PUPPIES.  Not in a normal, “Aww, aren’t they cute?” sort of way. No, it's much more in a, “Let’s check his teeth, his ears, his feet.  Let’s make sure he is comfortable with veterinarians.  Let’s make sure he is well socialized,” sort of way.  My husband refers to it as “Doctoring.”  As in, “You poor dog, is she 'Doctoring' you?”

But there is a method to my "Doctoring" madness.  As a veterinarian, I see a lot of puppies.  They are different sizes, sexes, and breeds, but they also have different personalities.  One thing that is pretty universal, though, is that they all have a peak socialization period—from 8-16 weeks of age.  Socialization is the term we use to refer to exploring the world, meeting new dogs/people/animals, and learning what is normal and what is scary. This 8-16 week window may shift some based on various research, but it is pretty well agreed upon that the best time to educate a puppy about the world around him, is when he is a young puppy.  At this age, the mind is very malleable, and with proper positive reinforcement, a lot of puppies can learn that the world is a pretty neat place.

When a puppy is not well socialized through this period, they may become skittish, scared, anxious, or fearful.  If they receive negative reinforcement, they may become increasingly upset or have a negative reaction to a particular stimulus.

For instance, let’s talk about veterinary visits. 

If every time you put your puppy in the car, he goes to the vet for only a shot, he might be nervous about car rides, the veterinary office, the veterinary staff, and shots.  If, however, you take him on a car ride to the veterinary office just to get a cookie and a belly rub, then it isn’t so bad.  At 8-16 weeks of age, most puppies are getting vaccines every three weeks, so they see the veterinarian often, but not for fun stuff.  Most veterinary offices encourage "weight checks" or "happy visits." Go into the vet clinic.  Weigh your puppy.  Get his nails trimmed and some cookies.  Get him fitted for his Voyce band. Let him explore an empty exam room (if the staff says it’s OK).  This socialization to the experience and location lets him know that veterinarians and vet clinics are not to be feared, and there are some fun things at the end of the visit.  (Since you know I LOVE to spill vet secrets—these visits are super fun for veterinarians too.  We love puppy kisses.  And all of the same ideas apply if you have a new kitten, too!) 

I am often asked about later adoptions.  A client may adopt a 2-year-old dog, not knowing what previous socialization she may have had.  Dogs of all ages may be socialized, the same way that they can learn new behaviors.  Learning is a lifelong process, and doesn’t end at 16 weeks of age.  So if you adopt an older dog that is unfamiliar or nervous around something, you can teach her to be calm and have acceptable behavior.  For instance, if she has never been to the veterinarian before, and she is anxious, the veterinarian can discuss options with you, including bringing her in for ‘weight checks’ or ‘happy visits.’  Get her fitted for her Voyce band, as she gets used to wearing her collar or harness. Some dogs that are very nervous can benefit from having happy visits several times a week.  And always end with positive reinforcement, whether it is cookies, belly rubs, or praise.

Here in the Voyce office, we have two new puppies that we are socializing.  Bodhi and Arrow are new to the world—and new to the Voyce family—but they are well loved.  We are socializing them with the office, walking on a leash, and with other (fully vaccinated, healthy) dogs of various ages and personalities.  They have both been fitted with their Voyce bands, which allow us to collect data, and allow us to monitor for changes or early development of problems.  The note-taking feature allows their parents to track house training.  And I can view all of their vaccines in one location.  It’s fun to see exactly how much each puppy sleeps (many hours).

Once they have completed their vaccines, we will socialize them with each other.  And I guarantee I will post pictures of the puppy pile that will ensue. 

Remember, socialization is important—for both puppies and veterinarians.

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Dr. LH is one of many veterinarian and pet-pet health professionals that are featured experts for Voyce. This article is an example of the beneficial articles found in the Voyce member portal that is included with your purchase of the Voyce band and membership. To order your Voyce Experience, click here!