tr?id=1702533549982635&ev=PageView&noscript=1 Priorities With Your New Puppy

Priorities With Your New Puppy

on 15 March, 2018

I just want to squeal every time I get a call or message saying, “We’re getting a puppy!” It’s so exciting! I have the privilege of hearing how the little fuzzball was acquired and all the details. Then, dozens of questions begin rolling in that I am happy to answer. The most frequent are about potty training.

There’s no doubt that teaching a puppy to eliminate in appropriate areas is a huge priority for most puppy parents. Other important topics like supervision and crate comfort naturally become part of that discussion. Then, the inquiries continue about handling normal puppy behaviors - things like chewing, jumping, nipping, barking, manners/obedience training, etc.

So, those are all things on a new puppy parent’s mind. All very important things! Yet, I’m going to tell you that even above all those things, there is a #1 priority that is often overlooked. What is it? It is PURPOSEFUL & POSITIVE SOCIALIZATION!

Notice, I didn’t just say “socialization”. Most puppy parents have heard of that, and sometimes try exposing their young pups to different things. The problem is that proper socialization is not just exposure. If your puppy is not enjoying the experience, then you can actually do more harm than good. Simply exposing a puppy to stimuli doesn’t make it pleasant. Socialization should build your puppy’s confidence. They should be learning to be happy and secure assuming new things are good. You must pay attention to your puppy’s cues and do your best to make their associations with the world - especially in their first 16 weeks of life – positive ones. Be purposeful in creating positive experiences for your puppy. That’s what I refer to as purposeful, positive socialization.

The reason I count this type of socialization as the ultimate priority with puppies is because it is time sensitive. The most important time to socialize a puppy is during their first 3 months of life. This is a critical developmental period when a dog’s sociability outweighs fear, and they are more inclined to accept new experiences. Your puppy is always learning and their young brain is forming imprints for future behavior and responses. It is much easier to help your pup make positive associations with things during this crucial time.

I once read a comment that said, “You can socialize your puppy up to the first 16 weeks of life. After that, it’s rehabilitation and much harder to do.” That really stood out to me. I’ve worked with thousands of dogs who have behavioral problems. My own Dolly came to us with some. We are working on them, but retraining the brain is a long, slow process. It requires great patience and diligence. I can’t help but wonder what she’d be like if she was purposefully & positively socialized instead of neglected as a young pup.

Research has determined that puppies that have been properly socialized have fewer behavior problems and an increased likelihood of becoming a great pet and lifelong companion. There are many great resources for helping you in this endeavor by simply Googling “puppy socialization” from an expert source like Dr. Sophia Yin, Dr. Ian Dunbar, the Pet Professionals Guild, and more.

Group classes for young puppies that are keeping up on their immunizations can also be helpful in coaching you through socializing your puppy. Classes for dogs under 12 weeks should focus on socialization and not obedience. Of course, teaching a few basic manners won’t hurt, but the majority of class time should be utilized to guide puppies and their parents in focus/attention, relationship building, appropriate play, resource guarding prevention, and optimistic exploration of different kinds of: people, animals, touching/handling, noises, surfaces, and experiences.

Too often I see new puppy parents with great intentions let this crucial period accidentally pass them by. Unfortunately, there’s no going back to this age and stage of brain development. Time goes by fast! Don’t wait until you experience behavior problems to consider starting your puppy’s socialization and training. Prevent them by prioritizing purposeful and positive socialization.

In the Kansas City area, Smartypaws offers Smart Start socialization group classes for puppies up to 12 weeks old at the first session. Call 816-743-4077 for more information.



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  • Debra was so wonderfully helpful when she came to do a home visit to help us help our dog, Lexus. I was worried I'd be made to feel guilty, but Debra was very understanding of our situation. I was also concerned she'd give us a bunch of suggestions we wouldn't be able to commit to, but she really worked with our time and lifestyle and gave us suggestions that can work for us and our dog. What a relief!

    -Adrienne Patrick

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