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The Chew: Proper Puppy Socialization and the Well-Balanced Dog

The following bi-weekly column is written and sponsored by Bark + Boarding, which provides a heart-centered and safe environment for your pets. Conveniently located at 5818-C Seminary Road in Bailey’s Crossroads, Bark + Boarding offers doggy daycare, boarding, grooming, walking and training services, plus in-home pet care.

by Lisa Stolaruk, Writer and Animal Enthusiast

Daisy, my childhood companion and protector, was a sweet and loving Maltese/Wire-Haired Terrier blend who was the absolute light of my young life.

She was my “velcro dog” whose sole purpose of existence was to ensure that I was always safe and happy. Yet, life with Daisy was not without its challenges, particularly when friends prepared to leave the house. At the first sign of departure, which was usually marked by rising from their seated position, Daisy would begin barking aggressively, charging toward them and retreating and guarding the front door.

She never barked when people came into the house, but her aggressive behavior when they tried to leave was not only frightening but baffling.

Why and how did Daisy develop this odd behavior? No one will ever know for sure, but it’s safe to assume that the lack of proper socialization as a young pup somehow provided the foundation for the problem.

Three weeks to three months of age is the optimal time for a pup to bond to other animals and individuals, to learn that objects, people and environments are safe, and to recognize the meaning of body cues and signals from others. Puppies who are not adequately socialized during this period may become fearful of unfamiliar people, dogs, sounds, objects and/or environments.

Why Socialize your Puppy?

Your pup’s entire environment is new, strange and unusual, so consider everything he encounters as an opportunity to make a positive association.

Try to come up with as many different types of people, places and noises as you can and slowly expose your puppy to them. If possible, have him walk on carpet, hardwood, tile and linoleum floors. Have him meet an older person, a child or teenager, a person wearing sunglasses, a man with a beard or wearing a hat, a person using crutches. Expose him to vacuums and brooms, cars, buses and trucks.

Be creative and make each experience positive. Always reward your pup with plenty of praise and treats when he reacts to new situations in a calm and curious manner.

Start Small  

Try not to overwhelm your pup; too much too soon can be counterproductive. If you observe your pup’s tail tucked, his scruff raised or his body rigid, step into a safe zone and let your pup decompress.

If you want your puppy to get accustomed to being handled by multiple people he doesn’t know, start with a few family members and slowly integrate one stranger, then two and so on. Taking your puppy to a party or a very busy urban area can result in a negative reaction to groups of strangers in the future.

If you are a single adult, a couple without children or a senior citizen, introducing your puppy to children of all ages will reap incredible benefits as your pup ages. Invite neighbors or relatives with children into your home for supervised play with your pup but be sure to coach the young ones first in gentle and respectful puppy handling.

Take Advantage of Free Supervised Puppy Socials

After all that hard work, make sure your pup is afforded plenty of opportunity to play! Bark + Boarding offers free puppy socials every Saturday from 10:30 a.m. till noon. There’s no need to reserve in advance; just bring your pup and we’ll take care of the rest! Proof of vaccines required; call 703.931.5057 for more information.

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