Socializing your puppy

Catherine de la Cruz, Poste de Pompier Working Pyrenees

You want your pup to grow into a calm, self-confident dog, one who takes for granted that noises and people aren't going to hurt her. You pup's basic temperament is a combination of genetics and environment; now that she has left her mother, you are responsible for her environment. Here are some of the environmental things that affect a dog's adult disposition.

2wks Birth to three weeks: Pups of this age can neither see nor hear. Their only instincts are to find food and warmth; a good mother normally provides this.
5 week old pups play Three to eight weeks: This is the time that puppies learn their native language - "dog". They learn from their mother's body language, scent and vocalizations. They also learn from each other as they play together. It is during this period that the very dominant and very submissive pups in each litter can be identified by means of their play roles. An observant breeder can identify these pups and give the more timid pups extra chance at individual socialization.
12-week old pup with boy Eight to sixteen weeks: This is the time that they learn their second language - "human". Just as with their mother, they learn from body language and tone of voice. Since they are still dependent on others for their very survival, they are programmed to "please" their caregivers by learning very quickly. This is an advantage that will never come again in the dog's life - a period where they quickly learn the skills that make their lives both possible and comfortable. The smart owner takes advantage of this by spending as much time as possible with the pup, housebreaking, leash training, and teaching basic manners.
10 wk old pup meets sheep Sixteen to twenty-six weeks: A good time to get to know other people and other dogs, and to learn how to interact politely with both. Most puppy kindergartens take place during this period. Livestock guardian dogs learn to interact with their livestock.
Obedience training helps both dog and child Six to twelve months: The pup learns she is an individual and not dependent on your approval for her survival, so some of the earlier lessons appear to be "unlearned". This is the time for formal training - obedience classes or lessons. The pup that is working as a livestock guardian often finds her voice during this period and her barking has to be "directed" to keep her from barking at butterflies and low-flying satellites.
Kingston Twelve to twenty months: The dreaded adolescence! Manners, training, even housebreaking seem to fly out the window as the pup's hormones kick in. Neutering before this age stops some, but not all, of the behavior. Remember your own "teen age" years, take a deep breath, go back to obedience training and be reassured that this too shall pass.
After that: a reliable companion for a lifetime.

Now - how do we accomplish all this?


Juno, Dawson and Tim Espell

Until your pup has had her full series of shots (usually finished at 16 weeks) she should not walk where unvaccinated dogs might wander. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't take her out with you. A crate keeps her safe in the car (and the car's interior safe from her) and her own collar and leash keep her safe out of the car. Take her to visit friends, particularly those with vaccinated dogs, and let her meet and play with other dogs. When you have company, put her leash on her and get her to sit so newcomers can pet her. Don't allow her to jump up on people. What is appealing at twenty pounds can be appalling at one hundred twenty!

In the house, get her used to normal noises - vacuum, dishwasher, dropped pots - and if your house is an unusually quiet one, you should look for occasions to make noises. If you don't have children in your house, find some neighbor children and invite them in to play with the pup. Use the time to also teach the children about the correct way to approach a strange dog. Your pup needs to learn that small children move differently than adults. If you don't have cats, visit friends who do. Keep the pup on a leash around the cats; discourage any chasing on the pup's part, or aggression by the cats.

If you have stairs, teach her to walk safely both up and down them; don't let her jump down. If you don't have stairs, visit friends who do and practice on them. While she is small, it is probably best to avoid the kind open in the back; they are visually confusing to a pup that is at their level. Know any place that allows dogs that also has an elevator? Make some casual trips up and down. Forget escalators - they aren't safe for dogs.

After the vaccinations are complete, enroll your pup in training classes - puppy kindergarten now, or obedience starting at six months. Encourage your pup to be friendly with everyone at the class, canine and human. Protect her from possible aggression by larger or older dogs, but let her play with friendly dogs. Praise her for allowing other people to look in her mouth and handle her ears and feet. Teach her to stand still for petting and grooming. If your vet or feed store has a floor scale, take her for a visit every couple of weeks so she gets used to the feeling of the scale moving under her. (Helps you know how her growth is progressing as well!)

Don't worry that all of this socializing will make her "too friendly" to be protective as an adult. To the contrary, it will teach her what normal human and canine behaviors are like, and allow her to distinguish, and be wary of, the abnormal.


Pyr pup and goat

The Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) needs socialization as well; it comes to her instead of her going to it. On the farm, introduce her, on leash, to all the livestock. That includes not only her sheep or goats, but the chickens, cats, horses and anything else kept on the place. Introduce her to the resident dogs, but unless they are LGDs, do not let them play together. It encourages chase and prey behavior.

Introduce her to everyone who comes to the farm - not just family and friends, but the horseshoer, the vet, buyers, visitors and the UPS driver. In every case, make a point of going into the pup's yard ahead of the visitor, take her collar and make her sit while she greets the visitor. This teaches the pup that people who come with you are friends. She will later make the transition to realizing that it's ok to bark at those who don't come with you, but she must never be encouraged to behave aggressively toward them.

Obedience training for the LGD consists of leash training, and - as a minimum - the commands come, wait and leave it. This should take place during the early perimeter walks the two of you take to familiarize the pup with her eventual territory. When you go through a gate, tell her "wait" and go through the gate first. If you want her to follow you, tug lightly on the leash and tell her "come"; if you want her to stay, unclip her leash, holding her collar, and tell her "wait" while you go through the gate. When you are on the other side and have it closed, tell her "OK!" as a release.

The LGD should never walk off the property. If you have to take her somewhere, always take her in a vehicle. She must never get the idea that it is ok to go down the driveway and out the gate. However, once in the car, it's fine to take her for a ride, or to the vet, or to the feed store (my dogs' favorite destination because of the boxes of treats within their reach.) While on these outings, treat her as if she were a family companion, making her sit for petting, and acting politely toward other people and dogs. Don't be afraid that allowing her to be friendly toward dogs outside her territory will make her less protective. Dogs are intelligent enough to distinguish between "territory" (LGD in charge) and "not territory" (human in charge.) As with the family companion, this kind of socialization will teach her what normal human and canine behaviors are like, and allow her to distinguish, and be wary of, the abnormal.

Taking the time in her first year to properly socialize your pup practically guarantees a dog that is comfortable and safe in all normal situations.