The Importance of "Hanging Out" with Your New Puppy? By Katie Rogers, KPA-CTP
Is there a way to create the perfect dog? Probably not, but maybe we can come close!
What can we do, starting right away, to help our puppy become as perfect a dog as possible? We can shape how our puppy experiences the world. We can instill in our puppy the positive traits of optimism, trust, curiosity and confidence. We can also create the opposite result if we are not careful! Proper socialization is the key.
Socialization: "A continuing process whereby an individual acquires a personal identity and learns the norms, values, behavior, and social skills appropriate to his or her social position." - Dictionary.com
I think it is really interesting to look at the definition of socialization. “Learns the norms, values and behavior… appropriate to his or her social position”. I like to think about what I expect from life with my adult dog, and how I can help puppy on the path to get there. This starts with what I refer to as “benign socialization”.
- Building Environmental Confidence: Touch, see, hear, feel, smell; the puppies' world.
- Learning to Exist: Expose your puppy to the world in a positive light. Let your puppy explore the world without getting overwhelmed.
- Set Expectations: Teach your puppy how to respond to strangers (ignore), acquaintances (quick hello and move on), and friends (friendly but polite).
- Handling Fear and Building Trust: Although you will try very hard to not let your puppy get scared, your puppy will at times be scared. When it does happen, you will need to comfort your puppy, and let your puppy know i can trust you!
- When in doubt, make healthy treats (I call them cookies) appear! And always have fun together.
Exploring new things in the environment is an important part of socialization. I refer to this as “building environmental confidence”. I want puppies to explore the world around them. To climb on logs and rocks. To learn how to move their bodies. I want them to become optimistic and curious when new things appear in their environment – because it might be an opportunity to play a fun game with their person. Exploring the world together in this safe and fun way is a great way to build a trusting relationship. Be sure to provide cookies for all attempts at interacting with new things.
Puppies also need to learn how to exist in the world. That seems simplistic and silly, but it is actually quite challenging. Puppies and their humans need to learn that they don’t need to get involved with everything around them. Take your puppy places, all the places you can think. Let them hang out and watch the world. Stay at a distance from new things. The puppy should be practicing being in a calm emotional state. Don’t let the puppy drag you around, but exploring together is fine. If the puppy looks at you, reward them! This is an outing, not a walk. Be present, see things for the first time, muse about them.
YOU get to pick who is important in your dog’s life. That should mirror the people who are important in your own life. Family, friends... loved ones. I teach my dogs from day one how to interact with humans of all kinds. And through this I build my dogs expectations about the world. We ignore strangers, greet acquaintances politely, and show joy and affection for those close to us. Through this foundation, they learn how to be polite members of society. These rules apply to other dogs as well! They also learn I am their number one. They can ask permission to say hello, they also learn to say no thank you to greetings they are uncomfortable with.
The default assumption becomes there will be no interaction, and to look at mom. From there, I have a much easier time teaching my dogs to be polite in public and walk nicely on a leash.
No matter how well you do this, at some point your puppy will get worried. Help them handle their fear and learn to trust you. If your puppy seems worried, make yourself available to them, kneel down, and invite them close. Help them move away from scary things. Provide cookies and love.
Through all of this remember why you got this puppy. Likely it was for the relationship, the warm feeling of love. The companionship. Treasure that, cherish it and protect it.
Katie Rogers, KPA-CTP
To read more about raising a puppy check out these other Pet Expertise articles:
- Dealing with Puppy Biting and Nipping
- Socializing a Shy Dog or Puppy
- Pam Johnson's Puppy Training Primer. With videos!
- What to Expect as Your Puppy Grows Up
- Socialization Prevents Problems!
- Puppy Socialization by Jules Nye
- House Training Your Dog or Puppy