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.
1) 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. Lightly misting puppy with a spray bottle of water or diluted coat conditioner is good for the coat as well as interesting play. Softly touch puppy with your hands or fleecy toys all over his body, rub his tummy, scratch gently (especially along the back or under the chin), securely hold puppy, turn puppy over on his back, handle feet and ears, look at teeth, etc. These are all great ways of making your puppy comfortable with personal 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! A gentle shake by the ruff accompanied with a stern verbal reprimand may be an effective teaching and disciplining method for your new puppy. Remember, though, that positive reinforcement is always a far more effective tool than negative reinforcement for educating a young puppy!
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 several times. Vali puppies will have been wormed at least twice, and will have had their first vaccination. I work with each 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 being handled, held, or carried.
2) 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 situation, and they become curious and alert when in new settings, rather than fearful. Do NOT keep your puppy confined to your home or yard only; bright little puppy minds need varied external environmental stimulation (and lots of it!) to become stable adult dogs. Treat all new experiences with calm acceptance. If you react calmly to new sounds, people, places … it gives your puppy confidence and security that “all is well”. Icies are great “travelling” dogs! They love to go for a ride in the car, and many Icelandics travel extensively with their families on boats, RV’s, etc.
Vali puppies start very early on environmental socialization experiences. Before leaving their first home, puppies have been on several “road-trips” for socialization purposes. I expose puppies to new and different sounds every day, give them new toys to play with regularly, and introduce an interesting new play zone every week. Vali puppies ride in different vehicles and meet new people frequently. Icelandic Sheepdog puppies learn at lightning speed, and smart brains need plenty of interesting input! Talk, sing, make faces, tell stories, etc. exactly as you would a human baby. (Many very intelligent herding breeds have been evaluated as the mental equivalent of a 2 – 3 year old child.) If you must leave puppy alone in your home (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!
A very important word of caution if you are taking your puppy out: do NOT leave a dog of any age in your vehicle! Temperatures in a vehicle (even with the windows open) may be 20-30 degrees hotter than outside. Icelandic Sheepdogs acclimate relatively easily to cool temperatures, but they can quickly overheat in warm weather, even in temperatures that feel comfortable to us. To be safe, you should never leave your dog in an unsupervised vehicle in even the mildest weather.