(Part 1 of 2)
The critical socialization period for a puppy is between 4 to 16 weeks of age.
The experiences of a puppy during this period are critical for his learning and development, and will greatly influence his behavior when he grows up.
“So, it is vitally important to socialise puppies from a young age; this means exposing them to lots of different experiences in a safe and positive way so that they cope with different situations and know how to interact with and relate to other dogs, other animals, and people,” stressed Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in “How can I socialise my puppy during the COVID-19 pandemic?”
A puppy’s experiences will shape his behavior in adulthood, but how does one socialize a pup during a quarantine period or at a time movements of humans are limited? This was raised by a number of pet owners in Facebook groups on dogs and animal welfare recently.
Socializing a pup
1. It is not just about meeting other puppies, dogs and humans. “ This is important, but there are many experiences to which we can introduce our puppies to help them cope well with situations they will encounter during their lives, including introducing them to different sights, objects, surfaces, sounds, experiences, and skills,” RSPCA said.
2. It is important to pair anything new with something good. This can be a delicious treat, a fun game, or praise and petting. This will allow the puppy to form positive associations with each experience, RSPCA stressed. “Socialisation and training should only ever use reward-based methods, whereby the puppy is set up to succeed and is then rewarded for performing the ‘good’ behaviour (positive reinforcement),” RSPCA said.
Tips on socializing your pup
1. Make sure the pup is calm before any experience and have plenty of treats to use as a reward.
2. Make sure the pup has space to “investigate” what or who is being introduced or to move away if the pup does not want the new experience/person/object.
3. Never force the pup to do anything. Instead, reward him/her for investigating a new experience, whether that is just looking calmly or approaching/interacting.
4. Reassure the puppy if he/she looks worried. If the puppy still looks anxious or becomes nervous, just remove the puppy from the situation and try again another day. “You might have to go back a couple of steps to something they are comfortable with and then build up again,” RSPCA suggested.
5. Socialization sessions should always be short and positive. Introduce only one up to two new things at a time to avoid overwhelming the pup.
Socialisation with people and other puppies/dogs
Unfortunately, you can not socialize your pup to other pups and dogs during this pandemic due to the necessary social distancing and movement/gathering restrictions.
You can not bring your pup to parks or other dog places at this time.
But socializing the puppy must be done and can be done.
“However, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, you should be able to go out for walks, as long as you are not sick or in a situation where you must not leave your home, such as being quarantined,” RSPCA said.
“If you are allowed to go out for walks, you can still take your puppy. You can do this by carrying your puppy if they have not been fully vaccinated, or by walking with them if they are fully vaccinated. You will need to practice social distancing and stay at least 1.5m away from other people and dogs,” RSPCA said.
(Editor’s note: Vets discourage pet owners from bringing their unvaccinated/unprotected pups or dogs outside their homes. It is best to have your pup vaccinated at 6-8 weeks of age to protect him/her from diseases that can lead to death.)
“So while you will not be able to take your puppy to meet other people and dogs close up, you can still create positive associations with other people and dogs. Every time you come across another dog or a person, you can reward your puppy with treats they really enjoy and verbal praise,” added RSPCA.
Please practice social distancing while walking or carrying your dog outside the house. Avoid areas where people and dogs meet and gather, and shared areas. DC
(To be continued next week)
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