Christmas puppy? Be sure to socialize it
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By Mickey Zeldes  January 10, 2014 12:00 am

As I’ve been walking through my neighborhood the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of new puppies. I’m sure not all of them were Christmas presents, but this seems to be a popular time of the year to add a puppy to the household. So, if I may, I’d like to give a word of advice to all new dog owners – and I mean that literally, I have a single word for you and it may be the single most important word of advice that you will get. Socialize. Socialize, socialize, socialize your pup!

Is there any downside to having a well socialized dog? Let me think about that…nope, can’t think of a single drawback to having a dog that is friendly to people, dogs, cats, kids, comfortable in new situations, unafraid of sudden noises or movements and OK in the car. Can you? Sounds pretty much like the ideal dog.

Dogs like that don’t just happen. Sure, there are some dogs that make everything easy, but even a difficult dog could be great if well socialized during certain critical periods. Puppies go through an initial socializing period from the ages of 3-7 weeks. They are with mom and their littermates and learn important lessons about accepting discipline and bite inhibition. That’s why it’s so important not to separate the puppies too young.

From ages 7-12 weeks, puppies go through a very important human socializing period which, fortunately for most dogs, coincides with the time that they are adopted and move in with their new family. Hopefully, the enthusiasm for having a new pet will guarantee that they will, at least initially (during this important timeframe), get enough attention. Also, at this stage from weeks 8-10, they go through their first fear imprint period. During this time any scary or negative experience is more likely to stay with the dog for life. It is important to prevent scary things from happening as much as possible and to be sure you aren’t (even unconsciously) reacting in a way that will reinforce their fear. Our instinct to coddle and reassure the pup that everything is fine is apt to backfire. What works better is having a calm, matter-of-fact attitude that relays the message that nothing is out of the ordinary and there is nothing happening that warrants their fear.

There is a second fear imprint stage that happens when the pup is anywhere from 6 to 14 months old (large breeds typically developing slower than smaller dogs). Again, your reaction is just as important, if not more so, in your pup’s development, as whatever the scary situation was to begin with. That’s why having your pup in a training class can be so helpful. Besides giving you a coach to help you handle these situations as they come up, training classes help you and your pup learn to communicate together. And it helps your dog learn self-control in an extremely distracting situation. Again, can you think of a single negative consequence that can happen by taking your dog to obedience classes? People argue about our insistence that young dogs go through a series of lessons as if there was a risk that something bad could come of it.

The truth is that with school and work back in full swing this week, it’s more likely that the new pup will not get as much socializing or training (or exercise, for that matter) as he really needs. Don’t put it off – they are only pups for a short period and this is the time to mold him into the dog you want to live with for the rest of his life. Make him the priority he deserves to be, and you will be happy with the results. Remember, you will get the dog that you helped to create. Hope he’s well socialized and obedient.


Upcoming events

• Bunny Day: Second Saturday of each month (next one is Jan. 11), 1-5 p.m. at the shelter. Meet our adorable adoptable rabbits, have your care questions answered by our knowledgeable volunteers, bring your bunny for a free nail trim, and shop our Bunny Boutique for fresh hay, fun toys and fabulous deals on supplies.


• No more lost pets: Free pet ID tags and microchips for all Rohnert Park and Cotati animals. Stop by the shelter during our open hours to protect your pet: Wednesday, 1-6:30 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 1-5:30 p.m.; and Sunday 1-4:30 p.m.


• Fix-it clinics: Cats altered for free and dogs are just $60 for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents. Call 588-3531and leave a message for our volunteer to call you back for an appointment.


Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at

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