So you brought home a warm ball of fluff and puppy breath this holiday season. Congratulations! Or maybe you’re still dreaming of the day you will adopt your next furry friend. Either way, it’s important to commit yourself to starting your puppy’s life with you off on the right paw! Here are some tips for avoiding the most impactful mistake people make in the first few months with their new puppy.
When you bring your puppy home around the tender age of 8 weeks, they are already halfway through the most formative time of their life - the socialization period. This is the developmental phase when your puppy’s brain is most open to making positive associations with the world around them. This window closes between 12-16 weeks of age. It is the position of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior that puppies should be exposed to “as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely... before they are fully vaccinated.” Unfortunately, many people believe that it is recommended to keep puppies home until they finish vaccines. Or they falsely believe that because their puppy is outgoing (all normal puppies are at this age), that this will continue throughout their adult life. The reality is that undersocialized teenage puppies and adult dogs are more likely to react with fear or even aggression towards unfamiliar children or people of unique appearances, or towards types of animals they have not encountered during the socialization window.
Pairing new experiences with positive reinforcement such as treats is an effective way to prevent future fear, avoidance behaviors or aggression. Having friends over for the holidays? Have them give your puppy treats while they pet or hold them. Be sure that your puppy is not mobbed, manhandled or overwhelmed endlessly by guests, as this can backfire. Lastly, a well-run puppy socialization class can offer a safe, structured environment to strategically expose your puppy to invaluable new experiences. Investing in proper socialization from day one will lead to many years of enjoying a social and behaviorally stable adult dog.