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Yellow lab puppy in back of SUV with window openYellow lab puppy in back of SUV with window open

What Does “Socializing” Your Puppy Mean?

Posted by Tom Dokken

You hear a lot about “socializing” your puppy, but what does that mean and why is it important? Socializing is actually training. By that I mean that every time you are with your puppy he is learning something. You need to make sure he’s learning what you want him to learn!

It is critically important that during your pup’s first 12 weeks or so you make time to interact with him daily. Socializing is more than bonding. Anytime your pup is interacting with you or other people, he is getting a sense of what behavior is acceptable and what is not.

I’m a big believer in keeping your dog in the house. That doesn’t mean you can’t raise him properly if he lives in an outdoor kennel, and maybe in your situation that makes the most sense. Regardless, socialization is of the greatest importance, and you cannot afford to miss this window of opportunity. So, let me say it again: DAILY interaction with your puppy!

In addition to getting your puppy used to life in your home and establishing daily routines, this is the time you want to introduce him to a concept I call “pressure on, pressure off.” It starts when you are holding your pup and he struggles because he wants to get down. Don’t give in. Instead, when he starts to fight, hold him against you, and if he starts to struggler harder, increase the pressure even more by holding him tighter against your body. Once he quits fighting you, release the pressure, and after he remains still for five seconds you can then set him down. This exercise shows your pup that you won’t accept that type of behavior, and that only when he complies with what you want will he get his way.

From the first minute you hold your new pup, you have a chance to teach a lesson that will stay with him his whole life. At the same time, you’re learning what type of personality your puppy has and how much pressure it takes to make him comply.

I continue this exercise several times a day for three or four weeks. Keep in mind that everyone in your family can teach this drill. Your pup has to learn who is dominant if you want him to be a welcome part of your family.

This “pressure on, pressure off” concept is the basis for all future training. When that puppy is struggling to get down but fails, and I tighten my hold on him, he will stop for just a split-second while he tries to figure out another avenue. In that brief moment when I lighten my hold on him he has learned that compliance stops pressure. You will eventually introduce other forms of pressure into obedience training. These could be a leash, check cord or electronic collar. The type of pressure will change as you progress with training, but the concept is a constant.

Another daily routine that teaches your pup a lifelong lesson is for him to get used to you handling his feet and mouth, and examining his eyes and ears. Every so often, while holding your pup, simply grab a foot and hold it and rub it. If your pup struggles, keep holding the foot until he relaxes, then go back to holding and rubbing it. This simple routine makes life easier when it’s time to get his nails trimmed or be examined by your vet.

You should also get your pup used to you holding his mouth and looking into it. This will make it much easier to administer medication when needed. Similarly, there will be times in the field when you’ll have to check his eyes or blow into an eye to remove a weed seed. Go through these motions now and you won’t run into resistance later.

As long as you remember that every time you or someone in your family is interacting with your puppy it is an opportunity for that puppy to learn, you are well on your way to developing a dog that’s easier to train.

Tom Dokken

Northfield, MN

Dokken brings more than 45 years of retriever-training experience to the SportDOG team. He is well known as the inventor of Dokken’s Deadfowl Trainer, which has become standard equipment for retriever trainers everywhere. He is the owner of Dokken Dog Supply and Dokken’s Oak Ridge Kennels, the largest gun dog...

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