You’ve probably witnessed the dog on walks that lunges or barks ferociously at every dog he or she sees. Or maybe you own that dog. That poor dog is stressed and fearful. One of the causes of this kind of reactivity is lack of early socialization.
Dogs see the world as safe, good, dangerous, bad, or neutral. You want your puppy to see the world as safe and good. The time in your puppies life when he is most open to novel experiences is before 18 weeks of age. This is the time to get him out there, so go! But do it right.
Here are 3 great tips.
Tip 1: Use Great Rewards
Pair new experiences with something your puppy loves like food or play. Figure out what his favorite treats are and reserve them for creating strong positive associations.
Tip 2: Ace The First Encounter
First impressions count. If your puppy’s first encounter with something new doesn’t go well, it takes a lot of work to change his mind. Always try to make first experiences particularly rewarding. If your puppy is not enjoying the experience, he will show it by turning away or trying to leave, tucking his tail, cowering, pulling his ears back against his head, and/or averting his gaze. If this happens help him by giving him more distance or leaving the situation.
Tip 3: Timing Is Everything
You should reward your puppy as soon as something new happens, but it’s important that the new thing happens first. For example:
- You’re out with your puppy and pass your neighbor’s house.
- You see your neighbor about to press the garage door opener.
- You wait for her to press the button.
- As the sound begins and your puppy’s ears perk up, you treat him with yummy food bites and use a happy, cheerful voice.
The association we want your puppy to make: Garage door noise = Good things happen.
Applying The 3 Rules
New place. Give your puppy plenty of time to explore and get comfortable. Try to get him to play with a toy, chase you, or toss some yummy treats on the floor for him to find.
New person. Ask all kinds of strangers and children to give your puppy a treat before petting him. If your puppy is shy or unsure of himself, have people toss a few treats on the ground or have them stand at a distance while you calmly feed your puppy. You can also teach your puppy to sit (or any cute trick) so you can have people ask your puppy to do something. That stops them from immediately trying to pet your puppy, which can be overwhelming for him. Once your puppy is comfortable, go ahead and let him interact with the new person at his own pace.
New dog. Not every new dog is guaranteed to play with your puppy, thereby giving your puppy a good experience. That means the reinforcement for meeting a new dog needs to come from you and the best time is directly after your puppy sees the new dog. Get in the habit of rewarding your puppy for simply looking in the direction of another dog. Not only will you create a positive association, but you will help prevent all-too-common behavior problems in adult dogs like barking at other dogs while on leash, barking at dogs (or people) when behind a fence, etc.
For how long? This is not just for baby puppies. Continue to build your dog’s confidence through social maturity, which in most cases is 2 to 3 years of age. Is your dog not a young puppy? It’s not too late to get started building more confidence.
Your puppy should be exposed, in a positive and safe way, to as many experiences as possible. Here is a scavenger hunt you can play with your dog. Please share your experiences with us.