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Socializing your puppy: 

  • Puppies go thorough a critical period of socialization between eight and 16 weeks of age. During this period of time they mature very rapidly. If isolated from external stimuli and not exposed to the outside world, they can grow up to be fearful adult dogs. 

  • Litters of puppies raised in an isolated location such as a barn, a garage or an isolated dog kennel often have little exposure to humans except those feeding them. If puppies never leave their confined, isolated quarters where they have been raised, they may never experience any external stimuli such as automobiles, strangers, loud noises or children running and playing. 

  • Eight weeks of age is the ideal time for a puppy to adjust to a new home. 

  • How do we get our puppies socialized so they grow up to be well-adjusted, adult dogs that are comfortable meeting strangers, children and other dogs? The key is to make sure your puppy gets exposed to everything he may ever be exposed to during his lifetime, while he is very young. The critical age of socialization is between eight and 16 weeks of age. If not exposed to new situations during this critical period, your puppy may always be fearful when exposed to new things in the future. 

  • After you have chosen your new puppy and had it examined by your veterinarian, you can begin to expose it to new things. Your puppy will not have had all his vaccinations yet, but you may still take him to a family or neighbor's home to expose him to children or friendly, vaccinated dogs. If you have small children, dogs or cats in your family, you are fortunate. Your puppy will become accustomed to the screaming and active play behavior of children and will be exposed to other pets. 

  • If you are a single adult, a couple without children or a senior citizen, you will have to go out of your way to expose your puppy to children of all ages. You can invite well-mannered children into your home to have supervised play with your new puppy. If you don't know anyone with small children, you can often find families with children at local parks. Keep some tasty treats available for the children to give your puppy so he associates them with food rewards. 

  • When you have visitors come to your home, when the mailman delivers mail or the deliveryman brings packages, do the same thing. Give them a dog treat, have them make your puppy sit, and then give the puppy the treat for sitting. This will teach the puppy if he sits for strangers he will be rewarded. This is an excellent way to prevent your puppy from jumping up on people. Your puppy will also learn that visitors will come bearing gifts, instead of being something to bark at and to protect the family from. 

  • Enrolling your puppy in a puppy kindergarten or a puppy training class will have many benefits. This will be a way to take your puppy out of the house once a week where he will be exposed to many new situations during a critical period of socialization. Be sure to choose a puppy training class where the emphasis is on having fun and meeting new puppies and their owners.  Basic training using praise and food rewards for motivation will make you and your puppy enjoy going to class. 

  •  Exposing your new puppy to pleasant experiences such as strangers, children and other dogs between eight and 16 weeks of age, is critical to having a well-adjusted adult dog. 


Children & Puppies: 

  • First of all, a dog should never be chained outside unattended. Most dogs of guard or working heritage suffer personality quirks when tied and many become downright aggressive. Dogs are better off in fenced areas, where they can see the barrier between them and the world, where they can feel somewhat safe from noisy, frolicking children. In addition, many dogs instinctively equate the high-pitched sounds of children with the distress sounds of prey animals, and they react by biting the child as they would have bitten the prey animal in the wild. 

  • Second, children should be taught how to behave around dogs, even if their own family does not own a dog. For example, a child should never approach a strange dog without asking the owner if it's OK to pat the dog. If the child sees a loose dog on the street, he should not approach it even if he knows the dog belongs to his friend. He should tell someone that he saw the dog, but should make no attempt to pat or grab it. Nor should he scream or run away, for these actions can result in an attack by the dog. A running being frequently says "prey" to the dog and triggers the chase response in his brain. Once triggered, this response is almost impossible to interrupt. The dog is reacting to chemical stimulus, not rational thought, and is extremely difficult to sidetrack. 

  • Most dogs, even those that are well trained, do not consider children as figures of authority. Furthermore, since children frequently stare intently at animals, a dog may feel threatened by this short person who is trying to catch him. Even the best-natured dog may bite to protect himself in these circumstances, especially if he feels cornered. 

  • Once a child is given permission to approach a dog, she should present her closed fist for the dog to sniff. This protects the fingers in case the dog is frightened and tries to nip. 

  • Children should never hug a dog that is not their own, and should only hug their own dog very gently if the dog can tolerate the hug. Children should be taught to never hit dogs with their hands or an object, to lower their voices when playing with the dog, to leave the dog alone when he's sleeping, eating, or ill, and to never tease a dog in any fashion. Many dog bites occur because the child teases the pet beyond endurance. 

  • Dog owners share the responsibility for bite prevention as well. They should socialize their puppies to small children at an early age. (It helps to buy from a breeder who has started this socialization prior to the puppy purchase, for the younger the puppy is exposed to gentle children, the more tolerant of children it will become.) 

  • Socialization can be as simple as walking the dog near a playground where children are making noise, running about, playing ball or Frisbee or soccer or walking through the neighborhood while the kids wait for the school bus. The dog can be told to walk at heel through a crowd of children, to sit-stay and watch the play or allow the children to pet his head, to down-stay until the end of the game. Constant exposure of this type will accustom the dog to the presence and antics of children. 

  • The dog should never be left alone with a child less than five years of age. A young child may challenge or injure the dog unintentionally and the result could be tragic. Dogs and children should be separated at snack time so the dog doesn't learn to steal food from tiny hands. 

  • The dog should have a place he can call his own, a retreat, a private room, a den. This can be a pen in the back yard or a crate in the house. The children should never be allowed to bother the dog when he is in his place. 

  •  If the dog has access to a fenced yard, owners should make sure that neighborhood children cannot accidentally or intentionally tease him. Kids often begin by goading the dog to bark, then to snarl. Or they may throw things at him to chase him away from the fence. However it begins, the end result is usually the same: the kids learn that teasing the dog gives them a feeling of power tinged with the possibility of danger and the dog learns to hate kids. This hatred may be manifest as fear or as aggression, and may end when a child is bitten and the dog is taken to the pound to be placed in a new home, (if lucky). 

  •  If the dog does not like the children, the children must change their behavior. Most dogs are wary of staring, of quick movements, and of high-pitched screams, all of which are typical of small children. Here are a few hints to alleviate the tension between dog and children. 

  •  Provide a crate where the dog can escape the attention of boisterous or over-zealous children. 

  •  Teach children to leave Ranger alone when he's in the crate, to pat him gently--no squeezing around the neck, please--and to leave him alone while he's eating. 

  •  Do not play tug-of-war with any dog that has access to children. A dog that learns to tug on any item will soon figure that anything he can grab is his, even if it's a child's toy, clothing, or appendage. 

  •  Teach children not to run past the dog and scream, for this can excite the dog and lead to dominant and even aggressive behavior. 

  • Never tie a dog in the yard. Children tend to tease tethered dogs even without realizing it, which can lead to aggressive behavior. Many instances of dogs attacking children occur when the dog is tethered in the yard and a screaming or running child enters its space. 

  • The sight of a child and a dog napping together on the sofa or the floor, playing in the yard, or contemplating the sunset is a wondrous thing. The potential relationship between a child and the dog that considers himself the family guardian is precious, and it needs to be nurtured and guided. Families can accomplish this by teaching the dog and the child to respect and cherish each other. If this can be done, fewer children will be bitten and fewer dogs will be euthanized for aggressive behavior. 

  • A few cautions: 

  • No hugging. A puppy held close to a child's face can accidentally scratch or nip if it becomes frightened and tries to get away. 

  • No dragging. Kids should never be allowed to drag a puppy around by the leg, the collar, or a leash. 

  • No feeding from the table. Puppies and kids should be separated when food is around so puppies don't become beggars and thieves and kids don't tease pups with tasty morsels. 


Introducing your new dog to resident dogs: 

  • From "the leader of the pack" to "the top dog," plenty of simplistic metaphors come from the canine world. But relationships between canines can be pretty complex, beginning with the very first meeting. 

  • Like most animals who live in groups, dogs establish their own social structure, sometimes called a dominance hierarchy. This dominance hierarchy serves to maintain order, reduce conflict and promote cooperation among pack members. 

  • Dogs also establish territories, which they may defend against intruders or rivals. Of course, dogs' social and territorial nature affects their behavior whenever a new dog is introduced to the household. 

  • Introduce one dog at a time-If you have more than one resident dog in your household, it may be best to introduce the resident dogs to the new dog one at a time. Two or more resident dogs may have a tendency to "gang up" on the newcomer. 

  • Have the dogs meet in a neutral location-If you choose an area unfamiliar to each, your resident dog is less likely to view the newcomer as a territorial intruder. Consider a neighbor's yard or a park, but not one in which you frequently walk your resident dog; she may view that area as her territory. If you are adopting your dog from an animal shelter, you might even bring your resident dog to the local shelter and introduce the two there (some shelters may even require that a new dog meets the resident dog before the adoption is complete). Each dog should be on a leash and handled by a separate person.  

  • Use positive reinforcement- From the first meeting, help both dogs experience "good things" when they're in each other's presence. Let them sniff each other briefly, which is normal canine greeting behavior. As they do, talk to them in a happy, friendly tone of voice; never use a threatening tone. (Don't allow them to investigate and sniff each other for too long, however, as this may escalate to an aggressive response.) After a short time, get the attention of both dogs and give each a treat in return for obeying a simple command, such as "sit" or "stay." Take the dogs for a walk and let them sniff and investigate each other at intervals. Continue with the "happy talk," food rewards, and simple commands. 

  • Be aware of each dog's body posture-One body posture that indicates things are going well is a "play-bow"—one dog will crouch with her front legs on the ground and her hind end in the air. This is an invitation to play, and a posture that usually elicits friendly behavior from the other dog. Watch carefully for body postures that indicate an aggressive response, including hair standing up on one dog's back, teeth-baring, deep growls, a stiff-legged gait, or a prolonged stare. If you see such postures, interrupt the interaction immediately by calmly getting each dog interested in something else. For example, both handlers can call their dogs, have them sit or lie down, and reward each with a treat. The dogs' interest in the treats should prevent the situation from escalating into aggression. Then try letting the dogs interact again, but this time for a shorter time period and/or at a greater distance from each other. 

  • When and how to take your dogs home. When the dogs seem to be tolerating each other's presence without fearful or aggressive responses, and the investigative greeting behaviors have tapered off, you can take them home. Whether you choose to take them in the same vehicle will depend on their size, how well they ride in the car, how trouble-free the initial introduction has been, and how many dogs are involved. 

  • How to help the dogs get along at home- It's important to support the dominant dog in your household, even if that turns out to be the newcomer. This may mean, for example, allowing the dominant dog to claim a special toy or favored sleeping spot as his own. Trying to impose your preference regarding which dog should be dominant can confuse the dogs and create further problems. 

  • Introducing puppies to adult dogs- Puppies usually pester adult dogs unmercifully. Before the age of four months, puppies may not recognize subtle body postures from adult dogs signaling that they've had enough. Well-socialized adult dogs with good temperaments may set limits with puppies with a warning growl or snarl. These behaviors are normal and should be allowed. Adult dogs who aren't well socialized, or who have a history of fighting with other dogs, may attempt to set limits with more aggressive behaviors, such as biting, which could harm the puppy. For this reason, a puppy shouldn't be left alone with an adult dog until you're confident the puppy isn't in any danger. Be sure to give the adult dog some quiet time away from the puppy, and some extra individual attention as well. 

  • When to get help resolving dog conflicts- If the introductions don't go smoothly, contact a professional animal behaviorist immediately. Dogs can be severely injured in fights, and the longer the problem continues, the harder it can be to resolve. Punishment won't work, and could make things worse. Fortunately, most conflicts between dogs in the same family can be resolved with professional guidance. 

Introducing your Dog to a Resident Cat: 

  • Here are some suggestions for making the most of introductions: 

  • • Trim your cat’s claws to keep the interaction as safe as possible for your new dog. (To learn how, please see our article, Trimming Your Cat’s Claws, for detailed instructions.) 

  • • First impressions are important to a cat, so you want the initial meetings to be as stress-free as possible for her. Before you bring your cat and new dog together, prepare for their first introduction by working with your cat to teach her to redirect her attention to you. 

  • • Begin by identifying some treats that she likes best. Most cats prefer soft foods heavy with scent, like tuna or small pieces of chicken. 

  • • Bring your cat and the treats into the room where you’ll likely do your introductions. Then wait for her to look away from you. When she’s not looking at you, say her name. When she looks back, quickly praise her and give her a treat. Gradually allow her to get further away before you call her name so that she has to move toward you to get the treats. Never yell or discipline her if she doesn’t react to her name. After some practice, she’ll begin to respond consistently because she’ll learn that when she responds to her name, you give her treats. If you attempt to discipline her for not responding, she could easily associate her name with your anger—and that’s the opposite of what you want to teach her! 

  • • Before you introduce your new dog and your cat, work with your dog separately to teach or refresh some obedience skills. Two important exercises for him to learn well are a recall (coming when called) and a “leave it” exercise. When your dog has learned these skills, you can control him if he gets overexcited around your cat. If you’re not sure how to teach your dog these skills, please see our articles, Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called, Teaching Your Dog to “Leave It” and Training Your Dog. Also, don’t hesitate to contact a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area for assistance. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a CPDT near you. 

  • • At first, confine your new dog to a room using a baby gate. Don’t restrict your cat or change her environment any more than necessary. You can start to introduce your cat and your dog near the doorway to that room, with the baby gate between them. 

  • • To prepare for this first meeting, start by taking your dog outside and running him around to help him work off a bit of energy. Bring delicious treats that your new dog will love, like bite-sized pieces of chicken or cheese. Practice sit, down, and stay after he’s run around for a while and seems to be getting tired. Then bring him inside and put him in his room, behind the baby gate. 

  • • Next, fill your pockets with your cat’s favorite treats. If your new dog is rambunctious, put his leash on him and have someone on his side of the gate to handle the leash. 

  • • Sit in front of the door and call your cat. Have your dog lie down or sit to keep him from behaving threateningly as she approaches. 

  • • When your cat comes, toss her a treat. Praise and treat your dog as well if he behaves calmly in her presence. Do this several times each day for a couple of days. This way, your cat will associate your dog with delicious treats and vice versa. 

  • • If your dog overreacts to your cat and does something that makes your cat back away from him, distract him and get his attention focused on you. Avoid accomplishing this by using leash corrections. Instead, get your dog’s attention by asking him to sit or lie down. Use treats to reward him for his fabulous obedience when something as interesting and distracting as your cat is nearby! Your cat should be free to approach the baby gate and get closer to your dog or to retreat if she wants to. Reward her any time she approaches the baby gate by tossing her treats. 

  • • Let your cat set the pace. Never attempt to force any interactions by holding your cat, putting her into a crate or carrier or restricting her movement in any way. If she doesn’t seem afraid of your dog, or if she even tries to jump over the gate to see him, you can introduce them in your living room or another large room with your dog on leash. Once you’re in the larger room, make sure your cat can get away from your dog during the introduction. She should have the freedom and room to retreat, run and hide, slip beneath a piece of furniture where the dog can’t follow, or jump up on something that puts her above your dog. Continue introductions until your pets interact in a calm, friendly manner. Cats often bat at a dog they accept with their claws sheathed or rub against him, and dogs respond by gently nudging back or offering a play bow. 

  • • Keep your dog on-leash during these introductions in the living room and for the first couple of weeks. Allow the leash to be loose, but hold it firmly in case your dog decides to try to chase your cat. Use your recall and “leave it” exercises if your dog starts nosing or following your cat and she seems perturbed. When you ask your dog to come to you or leave your cat alone and he responds, be sure to give him a special treat. 

  • • If your dog seems friendly or cautious, not much intervention on your part is required except to praise and reward your dog for his good manners and your cat for her tolerance. 

  • • Be careful to watch your cat as well as your dog. One well-aimed cat paw with all claws extended can cause serious injury to a dog. 

  • • Interrupt any chasing, barking or agitated behavior from your dog by using a leash to move him away from your cat. Redirect his attention to another activity, or ask him to do some easy obedience exercises for food rewards. To redirect your cat’s attention, call her name and use treat rewards like you practiced before bringing your new dog home. Avoid scolding your dog, yelling at him or jerking on his leash. A positive approach is crucial because you want your cat and dog to associate each other with pleasant experiences. You don’t want them to learn that everyone gets tense and angry and that bad things happen when the other pet is around. Dogs are more likely to engage in chase or prey behavior when they’re tense or aroused, and cats develop many undesirable behaviors—such as urine marking, excessive grooming, hiding and aggression—when they’re stressed or anxious. 

  • • When you’re not around or can’t directly supervise, keep your cat and dog confined in separate areas of your house. Most dogs and cats can share a home in harmony once they’ve gradually become accustomed to each other over time. However, if your dog chases your cat or ever shows intolerance toward your cat in your presence—such as growling when she walks past while he’s chewing a bone or being petted by you—keep them separated in your absence. 

  • • Your dog shouldn’t have access to your cat’s litter box. If he does, it will be highly stressful to your cat, and your dog might eat the feces and litter. 

  • • To prevent your dog from eating your cat’s food, consider feeding her on a high surface, like a windowsill, a dresser, a shelf or cat tree furniture. 

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