At Superdogs we often find ourselves inundated with dogs and puppies over 6 months of age. Often these dogs are out of control, hyper maniacs that the owners have no idea of how to deal with. Sometimes we are the owner’s last resort – if we can’t make the dog behave, the dog will be given away. A startling number of these dogs are between 6 and 18 months old.
By and large, these dogs have not had the benefit of early socialization class. A lot of people consider puppy kindergarden as a waste of time and money. Not suprising seeing as they are shelling out for the purchase of the puppy, toys, food, multiple vaccinations etc! They’ll tell us that the last time they trained a dog, they only started at 6 months and everything turned out fine.
Well, puppy classes have been around since the 80’s in the US, probably the 90’s in SA. Just like Preschool and Grade R takes advantage of your child’s innate ability to learn, early socialization class utilizes the time when your puppy is most receptive to learning to lay the foundation for a well rounded dog. Dogs are training sponges up until about 16 weeks old. In these few short months they will learn to accept change, adapt to new experiences and how to interact with humans. The window of opportunity starts to close at around 16 weeks and dogs that are not adequately socialized at this age will need much more time and effort to get a similar result.
A socialization class will also equip you, the puppy owner (and family) with the tools to deal with your puppy. Your trainer should be able to give you up to date info on nutrition, training methods, grooming, how to deal with problem issues etc. You should also get some info on how to interact with your puppy, what sort of games you can play with your puppy and so on. Special attention should be paid to the relationship between children and the puppy. Handling your puppy (sometimes called a vet desense) should also be covered thoroughly.
Another objection that is often raised is the vaccination issue. Typically puppies have their shots at 6, 8 and 12 weeks of age. In the past people were told not to take their dogs off their property until they were fully vaccinated (which at that stage was 6 months). Socially, however, your dog needs to be exposed to a variety of conditions way before that. A balance must be achieved between health concerns and behavioural issues. A perfectly healthy, anti social dog is not a fun pet to have. At Superdogs we recommend at least 1 vaccination before starting puppy socialization class and checks are done throughout the class to make sure vaccinations are kept up to date.
On a personal note, the first dogs I ever had as an adult were a product of the better safe than sorry era. We did not socialize them for the first 6 months of their lives for fear of them contracting a dreaded disease. They were very healthy, out of control dogs who could not be social with other dogs until they were about 8 to 9 years old and then only because they were too old to cause a problem. Conversely, when I raised guide dog puppies we took them everywhere from the day we got them at 8 weeks of age. They met countless people, other dogs, cats etc and turned into wonderful dogs, able to lead the blind.
My current puppy is 9 weeks old and accompanies me to as many places as possible. Fortunately for me, I can take her to work with me, she goes along for the ride to do the school pick up and drop off, visits friends with dogs with us and attends all my training classes. So far she has met cats, rabbits, chickens, large dogs, small dogs, Black, White, Indian people. She has seen people in hats, petrol pump attendants, babies in prams, older people, school children and toddlers.
She has only had 2 vaccinations so far, but I am willing to take the risk to have a dog I can do stuff with.