The Importance Of Socialization

I cannot stress the importance of the socialization process enough. This is a VITAL part of raising a well-adjusted puppy, and something you need to think about from the first moment your new puppy comes into your home. Socialization consists of two areas: 1) Personal and 2) Environmental.

PERSONAL socialization consists of handling your puppy daily – many times. Not just petting and stroking, socialization consists of making your puppy comfortable with whatever touches him, and making him comfortable with all types of human contact. Brushing, combing and bathing are great socialization experiences for puppy, as well as lightly misting him with a spray bottle of water or diluted coat conditioner. Playing with new toys, lightly touching puppy with your hands or soft toys all over his body, rubbing his tummy, gentle scratching (especially along the back or under the chin), securely holding puppy, turning puppy over on his back, handling feet and ears, looking at teeth, etc. are all great ways of making your puppy comfortable with contact. Do not EVER hit or slap a puppy – this results in a “hand-shy” puppy that will be fearful of contact. On the other hand, puppies do not need to be treated like glass – they are little balls of fur and energy, and need firm contact and correction as well. A gentle shake by the ruff accompanied with a stern verbal reprimand is an effective teaching and disciplining method for your new puppy. Remember, though, that positive reinforcement is always a more effective tool for educating a young puppy than negative reinforcement.

I start all my puppies on personal socialization early. Before going to a new home, a Vali puppy will have been bathed, brushed and combed, and will have had nails trimmed at least twice. Vali puppies will have been wormed at least twice, and will have had their first vaccination. I work with each and every puppy on a daily basis – holding them, turning them onto their backs, looking at their teeth, handling their feet and ears, etc. Vali puppies know how to stand quietly on a raised surface while being moved and petted, and are comfortable with handling, being held, or carried.

ENVIRONMENTAL socialization is also VITAL for a well-rounded puppy. Puppies need to visit many different places, and meet many different people. They need to be exposed to strange sounds – loud and otherwise – as well as strange smells and sights. Exposing your puppy to a host of unusual experiences gives them self-confidence in every circumstance, and they become curious and alert when in strange new situations, rather than fearful. Do NOT keep your puppy confined to your home or yard only; puppies need external environmental stimulation, and lots of it, to become a stable adult dog. Icies are great “travelling” dogs (they love to go for a ride in the car), and many dogs travel with their families on boats, RV’s, etc.

A word of caution, though, if you are taking your puppy or dog out with you: do NOT leave an dog of any age in your vehicle! Temperatures in a vehicle (even with the windows open) may be 20 – 30 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. Icelandic Sheepdogs function well in cold or chilly temps, but they can quickly overheat in warm weather, even in temps that feel comfortable to us. To be safe, you should never leave your dog in an unsupervised vehicle in even the mildest weather.

I start all my puppies on environmental socialization experiences also. Before leaving their first home, puppies have been on a few “road-trips” for socialization purposes. I expose puppies to new and different sounds every day, and give them new toys to play with every few days. Vali puppies ride in different vehicles several times, and meet new people on a regular basis. Icelandic Sheepdog puppies learn at lightning speed, and a brilliant mind needs plenty of interesting input. Talk, sing, make faces, tell stories, etc. as if your puppy was a baby. In fact, many very intelligent herding breeds have been evaluated as the equivalent of a 2 or 3 year old child. If you have to leave puppy alone in your home (preferably for only a very short period of time), turn on a TV or radio while you are gone, to provide mental stimulation. Talk radio, documentaries, children’s programming, or classical music are all good choices.

Again, socialization is not optional – it is ESSENTIAL to raising a well-rounded, stable adult dog.