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The Importance of Puppy Socialization

This week marks the 8th annual National Puppy Day; what better way to celebrate than to spend some extra time cuddling up with your furry companion? National Puppy Day was founded in 2006 to celebrate puppies and raise awareness about the proper treatment of pets and animals.

National Puppy Day is also a great time to learn a little bit more about puppy socialization and how important it is to properly socialize your pet. Dr. Jason Coe, the Nestle Purina PetCare Canada Chair in Communications at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), University of Guelph, has several projects underway specifically focused on puppy development.

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Coe and his team are working to identify best practices for puppy socialization while educating puppy owners on how their own habits can influence the behaviour of their pets.

Studies examining the barriers to, (and strategies to increase) attendance in puppy socialization classes; determining the effects of socialization and pet owner education on the development of pet behavioural problems and retention in the home at one year of age; and investigating if puppy socialization classes and early life experiences affect long-term expression of aggressive behaviour in dogs, a project spearheaded by recently completed MSc student Lucinda Glenny, are three key areas the team at OVC are currently exploring.

Dr. Janet Cutler, a Post-doctoral Fellow working alongside Dr. Coe, emphasizes that early socialization is a critical step towards preventing behavioural problems in dogs, as well as ensuring that dogs remain in their original adoptive “forever” homes. Behavioural problems can potentially lead to a breakdown in the human-animal bond, and are one of the most commonly cited reasons why people give up their pets within the first few years of life.

“Developing clear communications strategies between people and their pet’s veterinary caregiver can be an important influencing factor when establishing positive behaviours early on in a pet’s life,” Coe explains, who also leads the Veterinary Communications component of OVC’s academic curriculum --  a component taught in part through hands-on experience gained at the college’s Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre and teaches student positive communication techniques for working with and educating pet owners.

 “It is our hope that the findings of this work will help enhance socialization and educational programs for owners and their puppies” Coe adds.

"The goals are simple: prevent unwanted behaviour in our pets; reduce pet abandonment/ relinquishment; develop stronger bonds through better communication while establishing global best practices of care.”

Tips from the experts:
If you have a new puppy or if you are considering a new four-legged addition to your family, OVC experts recommend considering the following:

  • It’s important to remember that puppies have an optimal socialization period, during which it is imperative your new pet has positive exposure to new people, animals, experiences, and locations. This socialization period ranges from the first 4-16 weeks of a puppy’s life.
     
  • Positive exposure to different kinds of new experiences prepares puppies for the development of future social relationships, and helps to prevent fear in new and unknown situations.
     
  • Puppy classes provide an excellent opportunity for owner education and puppy socialization and a great way to avoid some serious pet behavioural problems.

In photo: Top: Juno.  Right: Martha with OVC students and proud puppy owners Chris Pinard and Kaela Shaw. Photo courtesy of AK Photography.