Pandemic Pups - Part 2
Socialization is probably the most important thing you can do for your puppy. In fact, it is the very first thing we talk about in our Canine Training Basics class and it plays a part in each week of that class. It is that important. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, the default position has been social distancing, the opposite of socialization. Since we had been strongly encouraged to stay away from groups, crowded stores, or even public spaces, we have limited our ability to expose our dogs to the world and it has become scary to some of them as a result. While it is definitely not all doom and gloom, there has been a concerning increase in behaviors, both in quantity and intensity, that would normally be avoided through early and frequent exploration of our world with our dogs.
Socialization is crucial for all dogs, but especially puppies. This is what teaches dogs that all of the different things in the world, such as different people, cars, trucks, bicycles, skateboards, garbage cans, balloons, umbrellas, etc., are not a threat or need to be feared. When we introduce puppies to these things, in a positive way, they are just objects, without the stigma of fear. This is important in puppies because they are uniquely equipped to be socialized due to, what we call, the socialization window. This “window” is the time from about 3 weeks old to about 4 months old. It is during this time that puppies are open to new things because their brains have not yet fully developed, so they do not instinctively respond to something new with fear but rather, curiosity. As we show them new things, in a careful and positive way, they can learn that these things are OK and are not scary. It is after that period of time is over, at about 4 months, that new things start eliciting some fear, simply because they are new and different. It is not to say that after 4 months old your pup is done; it just means that you need to be a bit more deliberate and careful when introducing new things to your dog. That is where the pandemic comes into play. We have been isolated, and so have our puppies so their exposure to the world has been limited. Even for our older, more experienced dogs, things have been so different lately and most dogs have not been exposed to things. Perhaps they have not seen any new people in a while. That could cause new people to be scary by default. If not directly addressed, your dog can be fearful of people in general and begin barking and lunging at strangers. Unfortunately, this is not limited to just fear of people. Anything “new and unusual” could elicit fear from your dog. We have seen dogs afraid of garbage cans, bushes, or anything that moves, in addition to the more common fears of cars, bicycles, skateboards, kids, trucks, other dogs, etc. While we can always help with specific or generalized fear, it is far more effective to prevent it in the first place with some positive socialization.