During every dog's life there is a very small developmental window where a dog will learn proper socialization skills that will define the rest of its life. This period of development, where he should have a great number of positive encounters with both dogs and people, ranges from just a few weeks old to about four months of age. This is the period that can dramatically influence how friendly he is as an adult.
The best advice that anyone can give to someone who is looking for a puppy is to look for one who has been raised around people and other animals. As soon as you get your new puppy you should start introducing it to as many different people and animals as possible.
There is one catch however to starting the socialization process early. During that small developmental period when it is important to socialize your puppy he is still too young to walk around in public places. This is because he is still vulnerable to catching diseases like parvovirus.
So what's the solution? How about throwing a puppy party. This way you can bring the people to him as well as other young pets.
Hosting A Puppy Party
So what are the basic rules of a puppy party? The main rule is to invite as many different people and dogs as possible. But there are several other things you can do to provide a party for your puppy. These are:
- Invite all types of people, starting with mellow ones who know how to behave around dogs. Make sure to include men and kids on the guest list–two types of people that often scare dogs who aren’t used to them. (This is important even if you don’t have kids. Sooner or later your pup is going to encounter children, and you want to make sure he knows how to act. Most dog bite victims are children.)
- Mix up the guest list often. Inviting over the same group of friends week after week won’t do it; if your puppy’s going to learn how to behave around strangers, he needs to meet unfamiliar people. So use this as an excuse to give your social life a boost: invite friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers.
- Make it a learning experience for your pup by having guests–including the kids–hand-feed him, practice some basic commands, and give him lots of pets and cuddles to get him used to being handled (future vets and groomers will thank you). If your guests reward him with a treat or piece of kibble after each exercise, your pup will probably conclude that humans are a pretty nice bunch.
- The ideal scenario would be to throw a puppy party every day from the day you bring your pup home until he’s three or four months old, but unless you’re a professional socialite, you may find that a bit daunting. A good goal is three times a week. And even once a week is better than nothing.
- Take your pup out and about. Even if your pup is too young to be on the ground in public places, you can still take him out in a carrier–to a café, to work, to the park, for a stroll around the neighborhood. Any exposure he gets to people will help, so long as it’s positive.
Teaching Your Puppy Not to Bite
This is usually taught by other dogs. When your puppy is play-fighting with another dog they will teach each other not to bear down with their jaws when they bite each other. Often when dogs play-fight one will get bitten a little too hard. That dog will yelp and stop playing for a minute or two to take care of the bite. This is an indication to the one who did the biting that if he wants the game to continue he needs to mouth the other dog gently. This is called bite inhibition.
So how can you reach your puppy not to bite? There are three things that you can do to accomplish this. They are:
- Reinforce bite inhibition when you’re playing with your puppy. When your young pup mouths you, respond with a yelp or “Ouch!” Then stop playing and ignore your pup for a minute or two. When you’re ready to start playing again, ask your pup to sit to reassert your control, then continue the game.
- Learn to give time-outs. If your pup ever ignores your yelp of protest and keeps gnawing on you, give him a time out. Stand up, walk out of the room, and leave him alone for a few minutes. You’re teaching him the same thing his puppy playmates do: If he bites, the fun ends.
- Make sure your children know how to react to biting and mouthing–and watch to make sure they really do end the game when the puppy starts chewing on them. You want to be sure your puppy knows that kids are people too, and he needs to treat them gently.