If anyone were to ask me “What is the one thing you wish you had known ten years ago about dogs?” I would not hesitate or even blink before answering: Puppies are the best teachers for other puppies.
We can coach a dog at any age how to sit, or walk on a leash, or come when called, but we can not go back in time and give our adult dogs that crucial socialization time that occurs between the young ages of approximately 8-18 weeks. This is when a puppy’s curiosity about the world exceeds most fear, so they should be exposed (with positive association) to as many people, other dogs, novel sounds and sights, and as much gentle body handling as possible. Once this small window of opportunity closes, and the dog has not been properly socialized, we risk the dog having specific or generalized fears and possible behavior problems stemming from lack of controlled, positive exposure to the world at large.
Attending Puppy Socials or a good Puppy Manners class is the best gift you can give yourself and your new puppy. Being around other puppies will teach your young one appropriate play skills, how to read body language, and most importantly bite inhibition. Bite inhibition can be, and should be, coached by a puppy’s human companions also, but nothing works quite as well as learning to have a soft mouth around other nippy, sharp-toothed little fur buddies!
There is some controversy when it comes to physical health vs. behavioral health. Some veterinarians don’t like their puppy clients exposed to possible diseases since their vaccinations are not complete and their immune systems are developing. However, the risk of future behavior problems which could lead to owner surrender and/or euthanasia is far greater than the risk of critical illness or death stemming from socialization exercises. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s official stance is pro-socialization in the early weeks of a puppy’s life, providing it is done safely and the dog has received ideally 2 rounds of DHPP.
A good idea if you are thinking of getting a puppy would be to ask to attend a Puppy Social or one Puppy Manners class just to watch and see how it works. Not only will you learn a lot, but you will have a great time….because really, who doesn’t want to be in a room full of puppies??!