When you get a puppy... all you hear, read, and think is the ever important SOCIALIZATION. With the pressure of socializing their puppy, many owners make huge mistakes that jeopardize the trust in their dog-human relationship. Let's go over some do's and dont's.
1. DO NOT take your brand new puppy to a dog park.
At this point in your relationship, your puppy is still feeling out the dynamics of the new pack, and (believe it or not) evaluating your capability of being his/her pack leader. What does this mean? This means that your puppy is sensing out whether you can protect them in a dangerous situation. By taking them to the dog park, where the pup will be swarmed with overstimulated, nosy, possibly aggressive dogs- you are sending the message that the pup must fend for itself. The situation may progress differently for every dog, however ultimately you are showing your dog that YOU are NOT in control. You may find that your dog acclimates well, and plays well with the other pups, but the pups play by their own rules, not yours. This leaves the doors open to your dog being dominated by another dog, or vice versa your dog dominating others. Even if your dog is well behaved, taking your dog to a chaotic situation will hinder any trust you may have built. Many dogs get attacked in dog parks, which influences behavior and feeling of security. In some dogs, this will come up as nervous behavior or aggression later in life because the burden of protecting themselves and the "pack" has fallen on their shoulders since you have not proven yourself as a strong leader by putting your pup in danger.
DO take your dog to controlled public environments and let them play with other dogs.
The point of socialization is to make your dog feel safe. Start off by teaching your dog some basic commands and be consistent with applying obedience of these new behaviors. When meeting new people or dogs- have the pup sit, and no jumping allowed. Rules go both ways: don't let another dog or child be rude and dominate your dog. Simple practices like these will show your pup that you are in charge because of the rules that you implemented. This process also shows your dog that you are keeping them safe, by not letting others cross certain boundaries. Good places to practice are locations where dogs are permitted as long as they are under control. Look for balanced training centers that offer day care. Take them to dog friendly stores. Some dog friendly stores in the Chicagoland Area are pet stores like Petco and Petsmart, certain Home Depots (call to see if your store's manager approves first), Stellar Wine Company, your bank, certain outdoor restaurants and coffee shops, such as Starbuck's. Playtime with other dogs is permitted with dogs that you know are safe, and that have responsible owners so that you can stop any unwanted behavior.
2. DO NOT play with your dog's food.
This rule should be implemented to a certain extent. Many people have been badly injured by trying to socialize their dog around food. Again, the point of socialization is to instill trust. By giving, taking away, then giving, and taking away food from an early age- How are you instilling trust? Food and sleep should be safe zones, so that the dog doesn't need to fear that these basics will be somehow taken away from them. By over practicing this exercise, a non-food aggressive pup might turn out to be one because of sheer lack of security! Imagine if someone served you dinner and kept taking the plate as you reached for a bite. This exercise has its place in determining pack order, however I recommend that it be done under the guidance of an experienced dog trainer.
Some other food safety pointers: Kids and other dogs shouldn't be allowed to interfere- let your new pup eat safely!
DO make your dog wait for food.
A safer way and one that is more understandable for your dog is to make your dog wait for food. Before setting the bowl down, make your dog sit and wait. Do not allow your pup to begin eating until he/she waits patiently and then give the "free" command so that the pup knows when it is ok to begin eating. When first teaching the "free" command, use an enthusiastic voice to encourage movement. At this point, your pup is eating and you may briefly and gently pet your dog. If at any point in this process your dog shows aggression- consult a professional dog trainer to assist in behavior modification. Once trust is developed in the early stages, you can teach your dog to stop eating on command. This command is very useful as it will prepare you for situations if your dog picks up something undesirable on a walk, however I recommend that it be done under the supervision of a professional dog trainer so that you do not instill food aggression.
If you have an questions or need help with socialization or other behavior needs, contact Smart K9 (www.smartk9training.com). Make your Canine, a Smart K9!