They may seem to be bold explorers-sniffing at and mouthing just about anything-but all puppies have an instinctive fear of anything unfamiliar to them. Fear causes stress on the body, which affects long-term health. To help your puppy avoid the negative health effects of stress, it is important to socialize her. Socialization is the process of exposing your puppy to a wide variety of places, situations, objects and people. A well-socialized puppy is a confident, healthy puppy that you can take anywhere.
The things that startle their puppies often surprise owners. Hats, balloons, garden statues, and other mundane things that seem to pose no threat. To your puppy, however, it is an unknown. If you are a subdued person, your puppy might show fear around a bubbly extrovert. Basically, any situation or object your puppy is not accustomed to can create fear and stress in her. It is best if the socialization process begins when the puppy is a puppy. This is a key learning time for puppys, so they become socialized more quickly. However, even older puppies that were not socialized as puppies can reach that confident, relaxed state. Socializing a puppy that is more than one year old may take a little longer, but the results are rewarding.
Socializing a puppy is a very simple process: take the puppy to as many different places as you can. Your puppy will pick up on your body language and follow your lead, so it is important for you to act confident and relaxed, especially when your puppy hesitates. While you are walking about, stop every so often to pet your puppy and talk to her in a happy voice. Naturally, feeding her a treat or two will give her a positive association with the environment.
At some point during socialization, your puppy will plant her feet and refuse to budge or try to hide behind you to avoid a stranger. How you react in this situation sends an important message to your puppy. If you pick her up or talk soothingly while you pet her, you are telling your puppy that she is right to be frightened. On the other hand, if you ignore her behavior and go about your business---perhaps walking a different direction to distract her-her fear is not rewarded. Since your goal is to give your puppy confidence, not traumatize her, never force your puppy to accept a person or situation. Respect her feelings, and try again later.
While you are out and about, remember that you are your puppy's guardian. Keep an eye out for excited children running towards your puppy. A good way to handle this kind of situation is to stop the kids verbally about 10 feet from your puppy. Explain to them that your puppy is just getting used to new places and new people. Ask them to approach quietly and one at a time so that your puppy learns that children are nothing to be afraid of. Letting the children feed your puppy a treat is sure to help her learn to accept these high-energy, enthusiastic strangers.
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