Socializing My Puppy - What Exactly Does This Entail?
Puppy socialization is the gradual process of gently exposing your Cocker Spaniel puppy to everyday sights, sounds, and situations, in a positive and non-threatening way, to help accustom him to his environment.
A properly structured socialization strategy is necessary for all puppies to help them to integrate successfully, not only into our human world but into theirs too.
Puppies that are not socialized properly will often become frightened and confused by the simplest of situations or noises, and are often nervous about their surroundings.
This could result in fear and/or aggression and may cause the puppy to bite or run off, perhaps into danger.
Under-socialized puppies can also be hyperactive, over-excited, and anxious, and are more likely to have behavioural problems later in life.
They can also be a danger to themselves and to other dogs and puppies.
When socializing your puppy, it's important to introduce your Cocker Spaniel to new experiences, gradually, and in a safe and controlled environment.
This way, you'll be helping him to accept all new situations calmly and without over-reacting.
By carefully socializing your puppy, you will be helping him to grow into a well-mannered, relaxed and confident adult dog.
The best time to begin socializing a puppy is when he's between 4 and 12 weeks old as his learning capacity will be at its peak and he'll be most receptive to training during this time.
However, the socialization process actually begins even earlier.
As soon as the puppies are born their mother begins training and socializing her puppies to enable them to live and survive as part of a canine pack.
If you've bought your puppy from a professional Cocker Spaniel breeder, it's likely that the breeder will also have begun a program for socializing your puppy to help him get used to our human world.
breeder will handle and stroke the puppies each day to accustom them to
being picked up by humans, and will continue with this until
he's ready to leave his mother.
Puppy socialization should be well on the way by the time you're ready to bring home your new puppy.
When you do collect your puppy, it's a good idea to ask the breeder exactly what socializing the puppy has had so far, to enable you to carry on where they left off.
It's important to note that although the 'window' for socializing a puppy closes at around 12 weeks, it is imperative that you continue socializing him beyond 12 weeks.
Continue to expose him to as much as possible; he may not learn as quickly as before, but he's still capable of learning.
Your puppy probably won't be fully vaccinated for a few weeks yet, so it's important not to put him down where any other unvaccinated dogs may have been.
If your puppy comes into contact with any canine diseases at this stage, it could prove fatal.
That's why, until he's fully vaccinated, the best (and safest) place to begin socializing your puppy is in your home and your garden.
Your breeder may have arranged your puppy's first vaccination, which will go some way toward protecting him, but you must arrange a follow-up with your vet.
He will advise you when the final vaccination's due, and when you can safely allow your puppy outside.
You can cover quite a lot of your puppy's socialization quite safely around your home and garden; however, there will come a point when your Cocker Spaniel puppy needs to meet other dogs and experience new situations outside of the home, ie before he's fully vaccinated, which may not be until he's 10 - 12 weeks old - very near to the end of the time frame for socializing a puppy.
Here's the dilemma!
You know it's important to expose your Cocker Spaniel to as many different situations and objects as possible, and to meet a variety of different people and dogs before he's 12 weeks old.
You also know that it could be dangerous to expose an unvaccinated puppy to areas where other dogs have been, but you don't want to compromise socializing your puppy.
What do you do!?
Don't worry if your puppy's not yet fully vaccinated; you can continue socializing your puppy outdoors, as long as you don't put him down on the ground where unvaccinated dogs may have passed by - you must carry him at all times.
There are still many things you can do safely before he's fully vaccinated.
For example, carry him in your arms and take him to the garden centre, the local market, or a supermarket car park, to allow him to watch and listen to the sound of cars, people, supermarket trolleys, market traders and anything else that's going on.
Introduce him to the postman or someone wearing a uniform and ask them to give your puppy a small treat.
This will help your puppy to learn that good things happen when the postman comes to the door - it may also help to stop your dog barking at visitors when he gets older.
If it's safe to do so, stand at a busy crossroads, or by traffic lights, or simply stand at the edge of a busy road and let him watch, and listen to the traffic.
If he remains calm, tell him he’s a good boy and give him a treat. Don't reassure him as you'll just be confirming that he's got something to be nervous about.
If you have friends or family who have fully vaccinated dogs, it would be safe to let them play and socialize in your own puppy-proofed garden.
Whatever you do, don't stop socializing your puppy just because he's not yet fully vaccinated.
However, once your puppy is fully vaccinated, the sky's the limit!
You'll be able to take him for walks on the lead, to meet other dogs in the park, or take him to the beach and watch him run around enjoying the sand and the waves!
When socializing your puppy, you'll need to make sure your Cocker Spaniel has the opportunity to meet as many different people as possible: various nationalities, large, small, short, tall, people with beards, moustaches, glasses, wearing hats, scarves, hoods, carrying umbrellas, and walking sticks.
We also recommend you introduce him to sounds, such as sirens, car horns, traffic, children shouting, screaming and playing, dogs barking, aircraft, loud music, men's voices, arguing, fireworks, tyres screeching, cats meowing, and thunder.
The list doesn't end there; there's much, much more that your puppy needs to experience during these few vital weeks.
This may seem quite a lot, but I assure you.....it's only the beginning.
Do a little bit of puppy socialization each day, but don't expect too much from him too soon.
As with all puppy training, keep the session short and sharp to prevent your puppy becoming bored; puppies' attention spans are quite short!
We're currently producing a user-friendly guide to puppy socialization which will cover it in more detail and include a comprehensive check-list with many every-day sights, sounds and situations that your puppy needs to experience in order to help de-sensitize him to his environment in a positive, non-threatening way.
The guide will also list examples of places to visit, people, situations, and everyday objects to expose him to, and give practical information with tips and advice.
Work through the 'Socializing Your Puppy' check-list and let your puppy experience something new - no more than 3 or 4 new tasks each day. If he fails to react, and his behaviour is calm, reward him with lots of praise.
Go back to each session and repeat each week to reinforce his training.
Don't get stuck in a rut - make the effort to vary your puppy's routine (and yours!). Take him out in a car other than your own; visit other homes and as many different places as you can.
Ensure your puppy meets different people each day. Puppies who grow up with the same old routine day after day will be missing out on so much development potential.
I cannot stress how important it is to begin the socialization process as early as possible and continue with it throughout your dog's lifetime.
If your puppy shows fear or nervousness towards something which cannot harm him, for example, an opened umbrella, don't make a fuss, and don't reassure him.
If you do, you may be reinforcing his fear; confirming that he is right to be frightened. You are his pack leader and as such you need to show that there is nothing to fear.
Don't try to force your puppy to approach the umbrella - this will only make matters worse.
Instead, close the umbrella and put it on the floor. Sit near to it, but ignore it - don't even look at it.
Your puppy's curiosity may get the better of him and he may walk over to it and sniff it. If he does, praise him.
Continue to expose him to the umbrella until he's comfortable.
At the next session, try opening the umbrella half way. You may want to put a towel inside so that it can't snap shut on a curious puppy - now that would traumatise him!
When your puppy is relaxed about a half-open umbrella, it's time to open it fully. Leave it on the floor at this stage; you can lift it up over your head later when he's more used to it.
The key is to de-sensitize your puppy gently, increasing the exposure each time until he shows no fear or nervousness at all.
Don't forget to reward your puppy each time he fails to react to the object; or, if he does react, reward him as soon as he recovers from his fright.
Socializing a puppy in a classroom environment is an ideal supplement to the socialization process as they will allow your Cocker Spaniel to meet with other (vaccinated) puppies and their owners.
Your vet or local dog club may be able to recommend a reputable class in your area.
Don't forget, your puppy will need to be fully vaccinated before he can mix with other dogs and puppies - speak to your vet, he will be able to advise you.
Puppies also need to be taught good manners and need to learn what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour.
Obedience training is very important for your puppy and should be a part of the puppy socialization process.
Teach your puppy basic obedience commands such as 'Sit', 'Down', 'Stay', 'Come', and many more - and watch him develop into a well-mannered little puppy.
You'll need to continue socializing your puppy for the rest of his life, although there may no longer be the urgency, or the frequency of socialization that is necessary for a young puppy.
Continue to find different situations for your dog: for example, take him to your local flea-market, or car boot sale; choose a different walk to give him different sights, sounds, and smells - anywhere that will offer your puppy different (positive)experiences.
By continuing to socialize him throughout his adult life, your Cocker will become more confident - not fearful - and will be able to handle almost any situation with ease.
Socializing a puppy is meant to be fun for you both. If he enjoys the 'tasks' you set for him his experiences will be positive and he'll learn quickly.
If he's a nervous puppy, just take things more slowly - one step at a time - don't be in a hurry to rush forward.
Many puppies and dogs are put to sleep each year as a result of unacceptable behavioural problems that could very easily have been avoided through proper puppy socialization.
Please.........don't let this happen to your Cocker Spaniel!
Photo Credits - In order of viewing:
1. Tanakawho at Flickr.com
2. Xenia at Flickr.com
3. John Amato at Flickr.com
4. Ronnie Meijer at Flickr.com