Canine Behavior/“100 People by 12 Weeks”
Our family will be getting a new puppy soon - a rough collie. She will be entering our home at 8 weeks of age. Before she arrives, I am educating myself on puppy care and training so we can raise our dog correctly.
I have read all about the importance of puppy socialization. An article on the AKC website says to expose your dog to "100 People by 12 Weeks." In other publications, I've read about concerns with puppies visiting public places and meeting other dogs before they are fully vaccinated. What is your take on this?
(Our puppy is already enrolled in a socialization class, which she will begin at 10 weeks of age. I believe this is "safe", because all participants must provide proof of current vaccinations.)
Thanks so much for sharing your expertise!
What a great question!!! Thank you for asking in a public forum. The more we can discuss the socialization/health risks the better.
And congratulations on your newest family member - and for doing your best to be well prepared ahead of time.
OK, so the facts fall like this... far more dogs are euthanized every year due to behavior issues as a result of lack of socialization than there are dogs euthanized due to communicable diseases.
This doesn't mean there's no need for concern, but it's actually quite easy to protect your pup's health while still tending to his crucial socialization needs during his most open window for learning about the world.
Here's how we do it:
1. NO STRANGE GRASS OR DIRT
. This means that your yard is probably safe as well as that of known friends who either don't have dogs or whose dogs are vaccinated and healthy. But don't take Puppy to local parks or allow him to access the grass on the neighborhood walks. Keep him on the concrete (on the driveway side.
2. Pay attention for poop
, and don't let him sniff it or engage with it in any way. Ideally you can just steer him away from it before he even notices it's there.
The reason for these rules is because we can't know the health status of other dogs who may be pooping in your area. The major culprit that we're trying to avoid Parvo Virus and it lingers in poop and in soil where poop recently was. If the sprinklers have just been run or it's been raining in the last 12-24 hours and there's no poop, it's probably be safe to explore a bit of grass, but for safety sake and ease of managing, just avoid strange grass until he's had at least to his 16-week shots, which includes his rabies shot.
As to socializing, I wholeheartedly agree with the 100 people in 100 days mantra. This is super easy to do. Most people love puppies and so taking the puppy with you to a bank (middle of the day, middle of the week - middle of the month to avoid SS check cashing days), or to a local cell phone company or a Lowe's or Home Depot or to sit outside a Starbucks, you're going to get at least 10-25 people in each visit, probably in less than 30 minutes to say hello to your dog.
I strongly, STRONGLY encourage you to make a point of bringing as many people into your home as possible during this window as well - even if you have to (and you should!) call plumbers and electricians or other repair people over "just to check" on something. The reason I say this is because dogs are very discriminating and if you introduce your pup to a slew of people out in the world and never have any visitors at your house, they'll be GREAT out in the world, but will fail to be comfortable with visitors and this is likely to cause stress for them as well as you (with the inevitable barking). So by having guests regularly during this window and beyond will go a long way toward helping your dog love people both at home and out in the world.
IMPORTANT POINTS DURING SOCIALIZATION
It's not just about being in the presence of humans. It's really about making sure that your puppy has POSITIVE
experiences with those humans. Don't force him to interact, but do encourage him. Tell people to squat down or sit down and let your puppy come up to them, rather than have them invade the puppy's space. In the first week, have each new person offer a treat in the flat palm of their hand - they can scritch under Puppy's chin while he eats the yummy. After that first week, have people present the palm of their hand and if your Puppy comes to investigate, they can scritch and YOU can present a yummy. This way, the first introduction is "strange hands mean good things", but we quickly shift to "strange hands mean greetings, which Mom rewards..." This is important because if strange hands always mean good things, then one day when an empty hand approaches, it may spook your dog and he may snap. So to avoid that, we want to quickly shift his expectation that it's YOU that provides goodies for having a pleasant greeting.
If he ever seems nervous, then create more space for him. Move him further away from whatever is scaring him and give him a chance to recover, then offer a couple yummies, then move on with the note that you'll need to expose him to that thing more (beginning further away next time) to help him feel comfortable with it going forward.
Second... socialization is not just about meeting humans and polite other dogs. It's about his entire world and all the things he may encounter in his life, and making sure that all of those things are positive experiences. This includes sights, sounds, smells, textures of surfaces, etc.
I try to take puppies to places with concrete and tile floor and wood floor and mulch if I can find it and sand if I can find it, bumpy/uneven surfaces, surfaces that wobble a little. It's smelling the smells of restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, car washes, etc. It's hearing the noises of shopping carts, both empty and full (they sound different), loud music, cars rumbling, thunder, fire works, etc, etc.
And it's about handling him as he will need to be handled for vet visits and grooming. It's touching genitals, tail, paws, opening the mouth to feel and look at teeth, looking/smelling ears, holding eyes open, bathing, nail clipping or grinding, brushing, etc.
And with humans it's not just 100 women. Again, dogs are very discriminating. Your pup will need to meet tall women and short women and fat and thin women - ditto for men. As well as dark skinned people, light skinned people, people with sunglasses, hats, headphones, talking on blue tooth, multiple people walking together. Women in high heels, boots, fur-lined shoes, in pants and shorts and skirts/dresses that hide legs (that seems to bother many dogs who are familiar with it). Children - infants if you can find any, toddlers, kids sitting quietly, kids running around, tweens and teens, quiet and loud, fast moving and slow. If necessary, start at a distance (in your car sitting at a park near the playground) and give yummies every time a child screams or laughs or runs past the car. If there are kids in your neighborhood, have them all present your puppy with a tasty treat in the flat of their palm which encourages the puppy to use his tongue rather than his teeth (safety). For very little kids, I'll put my hand under theirs to create a bigger surface. This seems to increase the confidence of the child and allows you to help them keep their hand still while the puppy takes the treat.
Sophia Yin, DVM has a book called Perfect Puppy in 7 Days
This book is likely to prove very helpful to you as a new puppy owner. One of the best parts of the book is her Puppy Socialization Checklist that not only provides a list of the kinds of things you should be exposing your dog to, but also space to indicate how your dog felt about it. This way you can keep track and make sure all his experiences are positive, and those that make him nervous or frighten him, can be returned to so that you can help him have better experiences going forward for those issues.
Here is a link to the PDF handout. You'll need to provide a bit of information before you can download the PDF of the socialization checklist, but she doesn't send spam. :-)
I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to follow up if I can be of any further assistance.
Congratulations, again. And enjoy the new puppy!
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist