A 6-Point Checklist for Socializing Your Puppy
Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
- February 21, 2020
- Well-socialized puppies mature into confident, balanced adult dogs; in a nutshell, socialization means exposing your puppy to as many new people, animals, environments and other stimuli as possible
- Puppies who aren't properly socialized during their first 3 months are at dramatically increased risk for behavior problems like aggression, fear and avoidance — these are dogs who, fill animal shelters and rescue facilities across the U.S.
- Socialization should start very early in puppyhood and continue throughout your dog’s life
Puppies, like children, can’t grow into healthy, well-balanced adults without our help and guidance. I say this often: “Good puppies aren’t born, they’re made.”
You’d never dream of restricting your child to your house or yard all his life, or suddenly decide to begin parenting him long after he’s developed objectionable behaviors or habits. Yet that is the situation many puppies grow up in, and then their humans can’t understand how their cute little pups turned into misbehaved, destructive or aggressive animals.
The explanation is simple: dogs are social animals and require regular interaction with the humans and pets in their immediate family, as well as with other people and animals, beginning very early in life, and continuing throughout their life. Puppies go through several development stages on the road to maturity:
- Between 4 and 8+ weeks, they learn how to interact with other dogs
- Between 5 and 10+ weeks, they develop the skills necessary to interact with humans
- Between 5 and 16 weeks, they are most open to investigating new environments and stimuli; puppies not given a full range of socialization opportunities by about 10 weeks can develop fear of the unfamiliar
It’s your responsibility as your pup’s guardian to take maximum advantage of each sensitive stage by providing age-appropriate social and learning opportunities. Puppies who aren't properly socialized during their first 3 months are at dramatically increased risk for behavior problems like aggression, fear and avoidance.
Dogs with problems stemming from lack of early socialization fill animal shelters and rescue facilities in every city and state across the U.S.
What’s Involved in Socializing a Puppy?
Socialization means exposing your little one to as many new people, animals, environments and other stimuli as possible without overwhelming her. Over-stimulation of a young puppy can result in behaviors that are the opposite of what you’re hoping for — such as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance — so knowing how much is enough is important. A well-socialized puppy:
- Is handled from birth and learns to accept touching of all body parts
- Receives positive exposure to as many people, other animals, places and situations as possible
- Is encouraged to explore and investigate her environment
- Is allowed to experience a variety of toys and games, surfaces and other stimuli
- Is regularly brought along on car rides to new environments with her humans
Socialization should engage all of your puppy’s senses though exposure to the sights, sounds and smells of daily life. This exposure will help her develop a comfort level with new and different situations, with the result that she’ll learn to handle new experiences and challenges with acceptable, appropriate behavior.
Dogs who haven’t been adequately socialized often develop entrenched fear responses and generalized anxiety, resulting in behavior problems that can make them very difficult to live with. In fact, almost half of all dogs relinquished to shelters have at least one behavior problem — aggression and destructiveness are among the most common.
These behaviors are often rooted in the fear and anxiety that develops as a result of improper or incomplete socialization.
Top Tips for Socializing Your Puppy
1.Enroll your puppy in a professionally run, positive puppy class. These classes involve minimal exposure to health risks and can deliver tremendous benefits for both you and your pup, including increasing his responsiveness to commands, teaching him bite inhibition, and learning tips for successful housetraining and how to prevent hyperactivity.
2.Invite friends and family over to meet and interact with your puppy as often as possible (several times a week is ideal). Try to include people of varying ages and ethnicities, especially children if you don’t have any, and both genders. Also invite gentle, healthy dogs, puppies and cats to your home to meet and interact with your pup, and regularly take your puppy for visits to other friendly pet-owning households.
3.Make sure your puppy is exposed to unfamiliar or out-of-place objects around your house and outdoor environment, so he’ll be less likely to startle or be fearful of changes.
It’s also important to get him accustomed to hearing a variety of sounds, for example, the vacuum cleaner, the blender, the lawn mower, outside traffic, a blow dryer, a plastic or paper trash bag being snapped open, the TV, radio, video games, etc. The goal is never to frighten your pup, but to expose him to new sounds. Life is noisy; he needs to learn that everyday sounds are no big deal.
4.Get your puppy accustomed to being bathed and brushed, having his nails clipped, his teeth brushed, and his ears and other body parts handled and examined. This will help him develop a healthy tolerance for human handling, which will make future baths, nail trims, oral care, and visits to the veterinarian and groomer easier on everyone involved.
5.Keep things positive. You should start socializing your pup from his first day home with you, but don’t overwhelm him. Set the stage and then let him set the pace. Don’t hurry or force his progress, and keep socialization sessions frequent but brief, and always upbeat. Modify the type of socialization based on the response and personality of your puppy.
6.When your puppy shows hesitance or fear, resist the urge to reward fearful behavior with a lot of attention and affection. Stay close to reassure him he’s safe but take care not to inadvertently reinforce fearful behavior.
Always remember that socializing your puppy should be an enjoyable, satisfying experience for both of you — one that will pay dividends for the rest of your life together. There is no greater joy than a well-adjusted, balanced canine companion.
Socialization Should Continue Throughout Your Pup’s Life
Once your immediate puppy socialization tasks are complete and your dog is on her way to becoming a well-balanced adult, it’s important to continue to offer her opportunities for new experiences, socialization, and training for the rest of her life.
Even dogs well-socialized as puppies, if not given regular opportunities to interact with other dogs as adults, can lose their ability to mix comfortably with others of their species. And while some pets are naturally skilled at dog-to-dog dealings, many others need regular practice through activities that provide the chance to socialize with unfamiliar people and pets.
From Day One, Five Steps to Prevent Arthritis
Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
- February 19, 2020
- Arthritis in dogs is common today and has several causes; the good news is there are many things pet parents can do to help their canine companions avoid this debilitating condition
- In puppies, it's important to prevent injuries and trauma that can lead to joint disease in the future; it's also important to control growth in large and giant breed puppies
- Feeding an anti-inflammatory diet, keeping your dog lean and well-exercised, and offering beneficial joint support supplements are also crucial steps in arthritis prevention
Arthritis is unfortunately a very common condition in dogs today, and genetics can play a role — especially for certain breeds. Other causes of arthritis include abnormal wear and tear on joints and cartilage, abnormal development of the hip or elbow, excessive laxity of the joints, trauma, dislocation of the kneecap or subluxation of the kneecap or shoulder, osteochondrosis dissecans, prolonged steroid therapy, and certain drugs.1
While there are many triggers for canine arthritis, some of which are outside our control, in my experience, lifestyle and inadequate proactive prevention are bigger contributing factors for many dogs than any other cause.
The good news is there are many things you can do, starting the first day you bring your pet home, to significantly reduce the risk your four-legged family member will develop arthritis down the road. The following tips are excellent not only for preventing arthritis in your pet, but also for helping manage the condition in dogs who have been diagnosed with the disease.
Prevention Tip #1 — Avoiding Injuries and Trauma
Many cases of arthritis in middle-aged or older dogs develop as the result of an earlier (sometimes years earlier), often seemingly minor injury or trauma. For example, most puppies are clumsy, prone to falling downstairs and jumping from high surfaces, which can set the stage for future arthritis.
That’s why I recommend trying your best to get your dog through the awkward puppy stage with minimal stumbles, tumbles, and falls. Cover slick floors with runners or area rugs. In my experience, puppies who slip, trip, and fall regularly are much more inclined to develop bone growth problems, which lead to joint problems.
Another type of injury I see frequently in dogs is cervical damage from leaping or jerking against a leash attached to a collar. A pet parent or dog trainer who jerks a dog’s neck when he’s leashed can also cause this type of injury.
Yanking a dog by a leash attached to a collar is absolutely the wrong thing to do, because it very often results in cervical trauma, which then results in joint damage. I recommend harnesses rather than collars for leash attachment for this very reason.
Prevention Tip #2 — Controlled Growth for Large Breed Puppies
The wrong diet can cause large breed puppies to grow faster than their frames can keep up, resulting in orthopedic disease, which is a precursor for arthritis. Many large and giant breed dogs are genetically predisposed to grow too fast, and sadly, their well-intentioned humans help the process along by feeding inappropriate, high-growth pet food to these puppies.
You should feed your large or giant breed puppy with the goal of keeping him lean, with controlled growth. A healthy large or giant breed puppy will thrive on a portion-controlled, nutritionally balanced, species-specific diet (see tip #3 below). You can feed a carefully balanced homemade diet or an excellent quality commercially available food.
Traditional puppy foods often provide much higher calorie counts than large breed puppies require, causing them to gain too much weight too quickly. If you're going to feed kibble to a large breed puppy, I recommend you look for special large breed puppy formulas or a formula that is "approved for all life stages."
This means the food is appropriate for growing puppies or adult dogs. I don’t recommend feeding a traditional (high growth) puppy food to large breed puppies. For more information on feeding a large or giant breed puppy, see "Why Overgrowing Your Large Breed Puppy Is Dangerous."
Prevention Tip #3 — An Anti-inflammatory Diet
The joints of your dog’s body are composed of soft connective tissue and cartilage. Their role is to provide cushioning between bones to allow normal movement. Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that causes damage to joints, which is why an anti-inflammatory diet is such an important prevention step.
A moisture-rich, nutritionally optimal, species-specific diet of real, whole foods, preferably raw, organic, and non-GMO, is naturally anti-inflammatory in nature. It should include:
High-quality, lean protein, including muscle meat, organs and bone (protein coming from animal sources should make up more than 80 percent of a cat's diet)
Low to moderate levels of animal fat (depending on your pet's activity level)
High levels of EPA and DHA (omega-3 essential fatty acids)
A few fresh cut, fibrous vegetables, pureed
No grains or starches
A whole food vitamin/mineral supplement that meets the additional E, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, iodine and vitamin D deficiencies often found in homemade diets OR enough of these hard-to-source foods in whole food forms, daily
Beneficial additions such as probiotics, digestive enzymes, and super green foods and a good source of vitamin C
Prevention Tip #4 — Weight Management and Daily Exercise
Keeping your four-legged family member at a lean, healthy weight is absolutely crucial in preventing arthritis. It’s very important to practice portion control at every meal. For most dogs, this means a carefully measured morning and evening meal. And don't forget to factor in any calories from treats.
You also need to know exactly how many calories your dog should be eating per day. Use this calorie calculator to determine how many calories he should consume on a daily basis to maintain an ideal weight.
If your dog isn’t well-exercised, even if her weight is good, it can set the table for arthritis as she ages. Animals are designed by nature for movement. If your dog doesn’t have the opportunity to go on walks with you, run, play and get regular aerobic exercise, she can end up with any number of debilitating conditions affecting her bones, joints, muscles and internal organs.
And dogs need to move their bodies more, not less, as they age. Although the intensity, duration and type of exercise will change, daily activity is still crucial to prevent musculoskeletal weakness. Muscles maintain your dog's frame, so preserving muscle tone will also slow the amount of joint laxity (which causes arthritis) as well. One of your our dog’s best defenses against joint degeneration is excellent muscle mass.
Daily, consistent, lifelong aerobic exercise is a crucial long-term strategy to prevent or delay the onset of arthritis symptoms. Without it, many dogs will exhibit more profound symptoms much earlier in life.
Prevention Tip #5 — Beneficial Supplements to Maintain Healthy Joints
Chondroprotective agents (CPAs) (e.g., glucosamine sulfate, collagen, hyaluronic Acid, MSM, eggshell membrane, perna mussel aka green-lipped clam, and cetyl myristoleate protect the joints and slow the rate of cartilage degeneration, which can be very beneficial in both preventing and managing arthritis. The form, dose and type of CPA your veterinarian prescribes should be based on a careful assessment of your dog's individual needs.
I also recommend supplementing your dog’s diet with a high-quality omega-3 supplement (krill oil), turmeric, and supergreen foods (spirulina, astaxanthin).
- Chiropractic care is an excellent and affordable way to realign your pet’s spine after an injury, or on a routine maintenance basis if your dog is a large or giant breed predisposed to arthritis, such as the Newfoundland. Proper alignment prevents your dog’s body from shifting into unhealthy positions to compensate for an injured or painful area, which can create problems down the road.
- Massage is another good way to treat tissue inflammation and prevent secondary compensation in your dog’s body.
- Stretching is beneficial for reducing degeneration and preventing soft tissue injury. It’s especially helpful for older dogs and competition and working dogs.
I also recommend finding an integrative or proactive, functional medicine veterinarian to work with you to customize a comprehensive arthritis prevention protocol for your dog.