The first few weeks of your sporting dog’s life are vital to his development. Bold and confident pups aren’t just bred. Exceptional blood lines help produce hard-charging bird dogs, but a vital key to your puppy becoming a gun dog comes from proper socialization at a young age.
The first 12 weeks of a puppy’s life are often referred to as the socialization period. This time frame is critical to the development, behavior, and social skills that your dog needs so as to advance later in life. Skipping proper socialization during these first three months can lead to a dog that is skittish, scared of his own shadow, and even aggressive. So, how do you “socialize” your puppy?
What’s Considered Socialization?
“As soon as you bring your puppy home at around eight weeks, start socializing him to his new environment,” says Kat Pippitt, Owner of Standing Stone Kennels located in Prairie, Kansas. “People get caught up thinking that socialization only means playing with other dogs and humans. You can’t forget that his environment is new to him as well and needs a proper introduction.”
According to Pippitt, introducing your puppy to things such as a crate, going outside to use the bathroom, and food training are all new to your young bird dog. She also suggests exposing your puppy to all types of floor coverings, both carpet and hard wood, and encouraging him to walk up and down staircases. And don’t forget the truck! Some puppies never leave the house except to venture to the veterinarian. A ride in a vehicle can be a stressful situation for a young dog. Be sure to expose pups to every environment he’ll encounter so he’ll be calm and associate different environments with doing something fun.
But what about outdoor education? Pippitt says, “it is also especially important to expose pups to varying landscapes that they later will encounter when hunting. Taking your puppy on walks through differing covers such as tall grass will prepare him for life later down the road. If your puppy has never tromped through the woods or bounded through the grass, how do you expect him to hunt through it at an older age?
Veterinarians usually give puppies their last vaccines at 16 weeks of age, which means exposing them to other dogs before that time is risky. Your pup is susceptible to life threatening diseases before he has all of his vaccinations, so socializing with other dogs has to be done carefully.
“It’s important to expose your puppy to other dogs, but only with dogs that you are sure have been fully vaccinated,” says Pippitt. “Instead of letting your dog loose at a dog park where you can’t be sure the other dogs have all of their shots, set up play dates with dogs owned by friends and family. You’ll know all vaccination histories and you’ll know it’s safe for your puppy to play.”
Don’t Coddle ‘Em
One of the most important parts of socializing your puppy to new people, dogs, and environments is to let your dog experience those things without pressure or influence. A loud truck driving by can scare your puppy while out on a walk. But what are you telling your dog if you immediately pick him up to soothe him when he shows fear? “Coddling your puppy when he is scared of something is telling him that he SHOULD be scared of that thing,” says Pippitt. “Instead of sending that message to your dog, redirect his focus with a task he knows such as “sit” or walk away and show him more exciting things.”
Proper socializing helps puppies develop confidence. From that confidence comes boldness and a willingness to work. Well-socialized pups can grow into relaxed, focused sporting dogs capable of performing at a high level. Those first 12 weeks are important so focus on socialization and you’ll help bring out the best in your pup.