Lab Puppy Socialization

Lab Puppy Socialization

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What is puppy socialization?

In a nutshell socialization is the gradual exposure to different people, situations, surroundings, sounds, other dogs and animals and more. Just like a human baby, when a puppy is born they have absolutely no understanding of their surroundings. All of the behaviors will be taught to your puppy including accepting everything around them in their environment. The process of socialization begins at birth with the puppy being handled by their mother and ends the day your adult dog passes away.

Properly socialized dogs are generally happier and have a greater ability to handle stress. Improperly socialized dogs can become shy, anxious and even aggressive out of fear because they don’t have the social skills to handle new people, situations or sounds.

There is however, a window of opportunity in the first three months which may extend past the twelfth week to week sixteen. during these first sixteen weeks your puppy needs to be exposed to everything you want them to accept as an adult dog. Of course, you can’t do this all in one day, rather you will have to read your puppy to see how much new stimulus is too much. I will discuss this in depth later in the article.

Why is Socialization important?

Early puppy socialization is important because, and I’m assuming, you will want a well balanced dog who is accepting of other people, animals, sounds and situations. Although socialization continues into adulthood the puppy’s expectations are laid out during the early months. The early months are when the puppy is best suited and accepting of the introduction of new things. In the case of a Labrador Retriever, a 15 lb Lab puppy is much easier to persuade than a 70 lb Lab.

What does a non-socialized dog look like?

Here are some behaviors an incompletely socialized or improperly socialized dog exhibits.

1. They don’t adjust well to new events and changes in their routine.

2. They may walk fine with no distractions, but will bark or pull when they see other dogs, bicycles, people or machinery.

3. They might not walk willingly in conditions out of the norm. An example might be if they don’t normally walk in the rain, but because it’s been raining for a week and they have all this built up energy you coax them outside for a walk. They refuse and sit avoiding puddles.

4. If for example you live in a ranch home or a building with an elevator and they have never had to do stairs, then you take them to your family’s home for a week who has stairs and they refuse to navigate them. So you end up carrying them up and down.

5. Someone comes over to your home and your dog becomes anxious out of fear. Not to be confused with alert barking, anxious fear is when the dog doesn’t understand that the new person is no threat to them.

6. A dog who hasn’t been handled a lot as a puppy such as brushing teeth, grooming, trimming nails, and so on will likely be uncomfortable with a brush and will question if they are safe with it being dragged over their coat. They may try to bolt, squirm and may even attempt to bite if there level of fear is high enough.

How do I socialize my dog?

Proper socialization begins with the breeder. Don’t be fooled by breeders who say their puppies are socialized because they play with their kids. Exposure alone to humans will not necessarily be beneficial to a puppy, they need to be treated with care and feel safe during the process. If for example a child drops a puppy, falls on a puppy, steps on their paw, or maybe squeezes them or restrains them because they are overcome with love for the puppy, the puppy’s socialization experience will have a negative effect on it being more accepting to humans and the world around them. For these reasons, we believe that young puppies should only be exposed to those who are well aware of how socialization works. Exposure to children should only be done under supervision by an adult who will teach the child what is and is not acceptable.

We begin the socialization starting at day 3. On the third day after a puppy is born we administer a stimulation process developed by Dr. Battaglia believed to provide early neurological stimulation and make them more accepting to solving problems and be comfortable doing so. Non stimulated puppies when compared to stimulated puppies,
generally experienced more stress and whined when presented with problems by Dr. Battaglia, This is contrary to the stimulated puppies being more willing to solve the problems.

Early Neurological Stimulation ends at day 16 and from there puppies continue to socialize with their mother and siblings. Our socialization changes from stimulation to handling. We will touch puppies paws, their tails, their ears and look in their mouths, feed them by hand once on food and groom them. We will also talk and sing to them along with exposing them to the radio playing and one loud bang every day. The loud bang gets them accustom to a gunshot, thunder or fireworks and exposure will need to be continued if the puppy is to remain fearless of loud noises. If you expose a puppy for the first time to a loud noise later they may not see it as a normal part of every day life and it will become more difficult to get them to accept the noise as a safe noise.

Puppies need to remain with their litter mates until week 8 as this is where they learn proper dog to dog skills as they play fight, bite each other and learn what is and is not acceptable. We have heard of breeders letting their puppies go at only 6 weeks old. In this case, the puppy would be missing the valuable socialization skills normally learned within their litter. We have at times had litters of just one puppy and thus making puppy to puppy socialization tough. When we have had this happen we will ensure the puppy receives supervised play with puppies from other litters and other adults. Care is taken to make sure puppies don’t hurt each other if one or the other is larger. Normally, puppies in the same litter are roughly the same size. This is sometimes not the case when you take a 4 or 5 week old puppy and let them play with another litter who is 6 or 7 week old.

Week 8 is the magic number for a puppy to begin bonding with their new family and this is the time that they leave their litter mates. This is the time when they are the most open to learning new people, situations, sounds and smells. During weeks 8 to 16 puppies need to be exposed to as much as you can give them without overwhelming them. Think of the socialization process as you providing the opportunities that the puppy can explore at their own pace.

There is no real number of the amount of new opportunities a new puppy should be exposed to each day, or each hour. Rather, they need to be allowed to experience these new things in their world at their own pace. It is important to mention that for the most part it is difficult to over stimulate a puppy as they are built to explore and learn. However, for example, a puppy who stays in the home of a new owner that may not be very comfortable meeting new people and venturing outside.

Later in the dog’s life when it ventures out to the vet, new people they see (and it may be up to 10 new people all at once) will likely make them nervous as they have no experience with new people to draw upon in order to determine if they are safe or in danger.

Another issue that may pop up is if a home has no children in it, and the puppy is not exposed to children in the first few months of being in their new home, then children may not be considered safe for them when they eventually encounter them. This could also be the same if the puppy lives with a woman and it is not exposed to men or vise versa.

So, each day your puppy needs to have the opportunity to explore what it is comfortable. A new person in the morning (the mail person), new sounds throughout the day, new and different smells, perhaps another different person at night, and so on. As your puppy gets to know different people, it will need to meet all types of people and should be introduced to new strangers more often. Let’s use a female for example. Your puppy will need to meet toddler girls, girls around 7-8, teen girls, young women, middle aged women and older women. These women need to be different from each other. For example, women with hats, in dresses, pants, skirts, loud women, quiet women, laughing women, sobbing women, women who yell, women with perfume on, women with glasses, women in a motorcycle helmet, and so on….

Locations are also important for your young puppy to explore. A few may be the Vet’s office, a hockey arena, a store, a pet store, a friend’s home, a park, a busy street, a church, a parade, and so on…

As you present your puppy with these new stimulus observe them carefully making sure they aren’t over stimulated. Begin slower at first so you are sure they will feel safe throughout the process. Situations that you may not have access to should be considered special challenges. Call on friends and family to see if they can help you provide opportunities for locations and other situations that you would otherwise not be able to do for your dog.

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