Socialize as soon as possible

April 28, 2004

This week I was asked about the need for socialization and when should this training occur.

Socialization is best introduced as soon as possible. If the socializing process begins at home, the training starts the day after birth with the owner gently handling each pup, holding it, stroking it, and with both hands cupped around the animal, slowly rotating the pup from side to side.

The following week the rotating can be increased by holding the pup with one hand under the belly and the other hand cupped over the back so the animal can be rotated over on its back and immediately returned to an upright position. If the mother dog allows, the rest of the family may take part in the stroking and handling too.

After weaning, the pup should be introduced to other humans. Some breeders permit friends to enter the nursery before weaning if the mother dog allows.


Socializing means exposing the pup to every possible situation it might encounter in its adult life. Therefore, if the animal is expected to herd sheep, the owner must allow the dog to stay with the sheep and bond with them so it will defend the flock if it is threatened. The herding part will come later as the dog develops, but it must have the bond in order not to think of the sheep as prey as they run.

That is what socialization is all about, teaching the dog how to behave in various situations.

I strongly advocate pre-school puppy training classes. When I was teaching, the puppy class started with the owners sitting on the floor in a circle with the pups on leash. One by one the puppies were allowed to enter the center of the circle and greet the other pups cuddled close to their handlers.

Good behavior was praised and rewarded, while growling or showing the teeth earned a "phooey" and a distraction by the owner. The timid and aggressive pups had plenty of opportunity to learn how to behave as the other pups approached one by one.

After the socializing period, the pups took part in agility obstacles like tunnels, weave poles, and walking on boards. Later in the class session, obedience exercises like heeling, sitting and coming when called were practiced.

When the pups graduated eight to ten weeks later, they knew how to behave around other dogs, around other humans of all ages, they were not afraid of new situations as long as the owner was there to coach them, and dogs that were living in special environments like a nursing home or on a farm knew how they should behave around wheelchairs or farm animals.

Finally these dogs were ready to enter the adult dog obedience class. Pups retain this early training for the rest of their lives. Adult dogs can be socialized, however, it takes longer and is not as reliable as teaching the younger animal.|3/16/04|***

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