Did you know? A dog is 10 times more likely to die in its lifetime due to a behavioral issue than from a medical issue. Why is this? All too often, people bring a dog into their lives and then once problems develop, they surrender the dog to a local shelter.
So, let’s look at why dogs develop behavioral issues. There are many different kinds of behavioral issues and many different causes; however, there is usually one common denominator – socialization.
If your dog is “social”, it means that they know how to properly interact with new people, with new dogs and/or in new places. The three primary categories of socialization are:
You can have a dog who is naturally very friendly with new people, but not so much with new dogs. And you can have a dog who is great with dogs, but scared of unfamiliar people and places. The key to any of these categories is the word NEW. If your dog is great with your family members and the neighbors that they see all the time, it does NOT mean they will automatically be comfortable with Uncle John when he comes over for Thanksgiving.
The critical socialization window for dogs is up to about 3 months of age (12 weeks old). Your puppy should be exposed appropriately and positively to as many new people, new places and new dogs as possible during that period.
Oftentimes, we hear people say, “But my vet told me not to take my dog out until she’s had all of her shots?” Your vet is looking at things from a medical standpoint. It’s like you getting advice from your Family Doctor on how to handle your child’s temper tantrums. They don’t have any special education that allows them to answer a behavior question – just personal experience and opinion. The advice we’re giving is based on a position statement from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. This is a group of veterinarians who went through additional schooling in the area of behavior. So in comparison, this would be like asking your Family Doctor that same question about temper tantrums, but now your doc also have a degree in child psychology. Since a dog is 10 times more likely to die in their lifetime due to a behavioral issue, socializing them as early as possible can actually save their life. At Canine Creature Comforts, we ask that pups have their 2nd round of Distemper/Parvo vaccinations before attending our facility for daycare, training or boarding. This 2nd round is usually done before 10 weeks of age and protects them enough to come into direct contact with places where other animals have been. Even before this point though, you can still socialize your puppy safely outside of the home. For example, you can take them to any dog-friendly store and carry them (for the little guys), or let them ride in the cart while you shop around.
A recent study done by the University of Guelph states that a significant number of pet owners fail to adequately socialize their puppies, putting these dogs at risk of developing behavioral problems down the road. In the new study, population medicine professors Jason Coe & Lee Niel and post-doc Janet Cutler found one-third of pet owners surveyed failed to expose their puppies to enough social stimuli, including people and animals, during the first few months of the dogs’ lives.
“This is concerning because it means a significant proportion of pet owners are missing the small window between 2 and 14 weeks where socialization is such a crucial piece in the behavioral development of dogs,” said Coe. “It’s a limited opportunity where pet owners can have such an influence on a puppy’s life and increase the likelihood of preventing the behaviors that can result in these animals being returned to shelters [and euthanized].”
Published recently in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the study surveyed almost 300 pet owners both shortly after they acquired a puppy and when the dog was 20 weeks old. The researchers found one-third of pet owners provided their puppies with minimal socialization opportunities. Minimal exposure was defined as “providing interaction outside the home with other dogs fewer than five times every two weeks, and with people fewer than 10 times in that period.”
The researchers found that 51% of pet owners failed to attend puppy classes, and found significant differences in puppy behavior and owners’ disciplinary techniques between those who attended classes and those who didn’t.
“This speaks to how puppy classes aren’t just about obedience,” said Coe. “They are about exposing your pet to other people and animals as well as educating pet owners.”
“Puppies that didn’t attend classes were more likely to be fearful of noises, such as vacuum cleaners and thunder, and to react fearfully to crate training,” said Cutler. “And properly socialized puppies are less likely to be hyperactive or fearful, engage in unwanted chewing, or show aggression toward people or other pets,” she added.
“These problem behaviors in dogs are the leading cause of breakdown in the human-dog relationship and are associated with relinquishment.”
So, what if you adopted a dog who is older than 3 months? Don’t give up! Even if you missed the first window of critical socialization, there are several more important developmental windows before your dog reaches the age of 2 years.
For dogs who already have issues, we can attest that 90% of the time you can positively impact a dog’s behavioral issues regardless of their age. Keep in mind, however, that the older the dog the longer it takes to undo bad habits or behaviors, simply because the dog has been practicing them for longer.
At Canine Creature Comforts, we offer group obedience classes, as well as individualized behavioral training for both dogs and their humans! We also offer FREE Puppy Socialization Hour every Saturday, 12-1pm, for puppies up to 5 months old. If you think you may be in need of some training help, you can call us at 610-296-8407 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to discuss some options!