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Dog Socialization: Pup Meets World
It's said that puppies ultimately grow into their paws, but the same can be said about their brains. Brush up on your doggy development with Groupon's study of dog socialization.
A puppy's development can be limited by the length of its leash. Veterinarians urge owners to introduce canines to as many new experiences—people, places, fellow dogs, and even inanimate objects—as possible in controlled, nonthreatening environments in a process called dog socialization.
This is particularly critical in the window between 4 and 14 weeks of age, when a puppy's brain is actively codifying proper and improper behaviors and working to distinguish safe stimuli from threatening situations. Like all other animals, dogs are most likely to misbehave or react aggressively when afraid. Whether their fear stems from the noise of a passing vehicle or the beard of a next-door neighbor, owners can help put them at ease by exposing their four-pawed friends to potentially uncomfortable situations and making them feel at ease. The more experiences, the better.
But simply taking the pup out of its comfort zone is not enough. Spending time off the leash at a dog park can be great for canine socialization, but owners must be sure to monitor their dog's behavior. Veterinarians insist that dogs be allowed to enter into new environments voluntarily, and advise owners to reinforce model behavior with treats and praise. If they respond fearfully or aggressively from any stimuli, owners should withdraw them from the situation and not return until their pup has calmed down. If the source of the fear happens to be human, owners should ask the person to step back, as this teaches the dog that it is not responsible for protecting the pack from undercover mailmen.
If this sounds like a lot to manage, most cities abound with ready-made, controlled socialization environments: obedience classes. Along with strengthening the bond between pup and owner, group classes are great venues for socialization. There, puppies can take their behavioral cues both from their owners' instructions and through modeling, as the human praise bestowed upon their well-behaved classmates encourages them to follow suit.