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Australian Shepherds

Socializing Your New Aussie Puppy

There is so much information out there about what you can, should, and should not do when it comes to bringing home a new puppy.  One major no-no is taking your puppy outside of your yard before they have their second set of vaccinations.  Why you ask?  Because parvovirus is out there, and if your puppy contracts it from a public sidewalk before they are fully vaccinated, there is a good chance it could kill your dog.

But what about puppy socialization?  This is a concept which leaves new owners struggling to understand the difference between keeping their new, furry best-friends safe, and making sure that they don't evolve into little, aggressive, growling furballs with teeth.  The goal is to raise a non-aggressive puppy which will grow into a non-aggressive dog.

A starting point would be to enroll your Aussie pup into a puppy socialization class.  But that's just a starting point.  This type of socialization introduction will provide maybe 5% of the total socialization your puppy needs.  You need to do much, much more.  

The first 14-weeks of your Australian Shepherd puppy's life is the most critical time for establishing good socialization practices.  But if you remember from our article on Minimal Vaccine Protocol, your puppy only receives their second set of shots between weeks 11-12.  Does that mean you don't start socializing them until they can go outside on a walk?  No!  It needs to start from the moment you bring puppy home with you.

Expose your puppy to as many new environments, sights, sounds, smells, people and other safe encounters as possible for the first six weeks (to start) after they come home.  This should be a daily exercise that doesn't need to be a lengthy one.  Take your pup for a drive in the car.  Sit on a park bench (being careful NOT to put your puppy on the ground until they're fully vaccinated - this cannot be stressed enough!) and watch the people and dogs going by. Park in a grocery store parking lot to experience new smells and sounds from the safe haven inside your car.  Do this every day from the time they are brought home until they are six weeks old.  After that, a good guideline is to continue the socialization exercise 2-3 times a week until they are about five months old.  It gets easier once they can go for walks down the street.  

Socialization is important for preparing your puppy for unexpected and different situations.  It teaches them that they don't need to be afraid of things that are unusual.  Not exposing them to new and different situations creates the possibility that your dog, even though friendly at home and with your neighbour, will react badly when walking in the park.  And going to the vet.  And being kennelled.  And, and, and. . . And we don't want that.  Having a second dog is NOT a socialization program.  Taking one class is NOT a socialization program.  The breeder's environment was NOT a socialization program.  Meeting people inside your home is NOT a socialization program.  Exposing your Aussie puppy to many new, interesting, different, pleasant and safe experiences and encounters on a daily basis inside and outside of your home IS a socialization program.  

Some great ideas to try with your new puppy:

  • Carry your puppy around a dog-friendly store (don't put them down if they haven't had their second round of shots);
  • Reward with treats and positive reinforcement when your puppy responds positively to the new experience;
  • Keep new people at a distance.  This teaches the puppy impulse control (they don't get to meet everyone they want to) and also shows a hesitant puppy that the new person isn't something to fear;
  • Carry your puppy to the vet - just to say hello (also great for teaching your puppy that veterinarian's aren't to be feared);
  • Carry your new Aussie to their groomer for a quick visit;
  • Sit in your car or on a park bench to watch other dogs - but no visits until they've received their second shots;
  • Buy toys that have different sounds and experiences.  Introduce safe objects like empty water bottles and boxes that will pique puppy's interest;

Be careful to not force an experience that is making your puppy afraid.  Keep an unvaccinated puppy off of public ground surfaces and also lawns, porches and other outdoor spaces that haven't been protected from public exposure for more than two years.  This means that if your parents just bought a house, their yard is out-of-bounds.  Parvo can live in areas for two years, so every precaution is necessary.  Also, remember that dog parks are off limits unless your puppy is at least six months old and has already been thoroughly socialized.  Dog parks are for socialized dogs - not for learning socialization!  Keep strange people from invading your puppy's space and strange dogs from being introduced.  One badly-socialized encounter can send your program backwards to square one in the blink of an eye.  And above all, teach your puppy manners during this process, and remember to have FUN.  Your investment in your dog's mental health now will reward you for years into the future.