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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Importance of Socialization

Have you known dogs that get too excited when they see people and jump all over them? Dogs that are fine around their home, but can't stop trembling when they go anywhere else? Dogs that pee nervously when anyone new comes around? Ones that jump at the slightest noise or shadow? Or ones that snap or bite in situations or around people they don't know? And did you know that all of these behaviors are pretty set by about 4 months old?

Veterinary behavioral specialists are becoming more vocal about the importance of early socialization in dogs. There are developmental "windows" where a dog's brain is very receptive to certain kinds of stimuli. In the case of socialization, this window is open the greatest until about 14-16 weeks old. During this time, a dog learns how to handle new and different situations, how to behave around people and other animals, and how to react to something they don't understand or might find frightening. If they don't learn these things during this period of time, they likely will never properly learn them. Their experiences in their first 2-4 months of life helps determine their behaviors for the rest of their life.

So what does this mean for you as a dog owner? When you get a new puppy, you should strongly consider getting them into a group puppy class as early as 8-10 weeks old. Many people shelter their dogs, keeping them away from other people or pets. Unfortunately, this can actually hinder a puppy's behavioral development, leading to fearful or rambunctious behaviors. Socialization does not mean being around the kids, grandkids, and other family pets. It means getting them around people, situations, objects, and animals outside of their normal environment. However, you need to have this done in a controlled way so the puppy can be properly trained and can learn to behave properly. And you must do this early! Many people don't think about it until their dog is 5, 6, or even 9 months old and is causing problems. By this time, the behavior is already set, and very difficult to change.

For those of you who have adult dogs, there is still hope, though it will be harder. Find a vet who is skilled in behavioral counseling and listen to their advice. For those with new puppies or considering getting one, please don't discount the benefits of group puppy classes in devleoping proper and desired behaviors.