How To Socialize Your Agility Puppy With Other Puppies

puppy socializationDogs need to be dogs and socializing your puppy is extremely important especially if you don’t have other dogs.  It is also important for puppies to be socialized and allowed playtime with other puppies as older dogs can get cranky and short with puppies.  The accepted age that socialization should begin with puppies is before 16 weeks.  It is made difficult by being the time that immunizations start, so you have to be certain that you have a safe environment for puppies during this vulnerable time.  Don’t forgo socializing your puppy due to shots, it will have a strong impact on the rest of their lives especially for those destined to become agility dogs where they will be around a lot of dogs and people.  Starting them on time will allow them to meet many different kinds of people, in many different situations, in many different environments so they can function as healthy adults.

So how do you socialize puppies?  You need to locate a safe environment that is kept clear of adult dogs at all times.  This keeps the puppies safe physically as well as mentally.  Many adult dogs do not do well with strange puppies and it would be detrimental to the puppy’s healthy state of mind if they are “roughed up” by a strange adult dog.  There also needs to be puppy proof fencing in the event a puppy gets away from it’s handler and for the future when the puppies are allowed off leash.  You want to keep the age range close, though different sized puppies is fine as long as extra large or extra small dogs are very carefully watched.  You don’t want your puppy to only be at ease with similar sized dogs.

When you are in a secure and safe area you will keep all puppies on a nice loose leash and allow them to sniff one another.  Dogs start the greeting process by smelling around the muzzle and then around the anogenital area.  These areas have the highest concentration of pheromones and tell dogs the sex, age, and emotional state of the other dog.  After sniffing the puppies may lick each other as well, which is also a social behavior.  As they get to know each other you will start seeing other social behaviors like placing the head over the shoulders of another puppy.  This is the way they establish where each dog lies within their new relationship and is not to worry about.  Some puppies will “tell” the others they do not want to be a threat by lying down.  It is perfectly acceptable behavior.

When you see a puppy go into the “play bow” which is an invitation to the other puppy to play, it is time to give the puppies as much room as possible on leash so they can play with each other.  Try to stay out of their fun as much as possible unless you notice one of the puppies getting too rough, scaring other puppies or one of the puppies tries to leave play and the others wont allow it. You need to keep a close eye on the puppy play to avoid harsh or overpowering play that could cause other puppies to have a negative association with play.  This is why we keep them on leash, it is much easier to get them apart before a puppy gets badly scared or hurt.

Once the puppies get comfortable with each other you can let go of the leash, but still keep careful eye on them.  You want to give the puppies time to work things out on their own.  That is why you are doing this, but you need to be ready to intervene if necessary.  Watch for signs of stress in your puppy such as avoidance or looking away from the other puppies, constant tail tucking, lip licking and staying hidden behind you.  You want to remove your puppy from play before he starts to resent it.  Give him a little break, let him relax then see if he wants another try.  Good behaviors like sniffing, digging or scratching are displacement behaviors that take the focus off the dog itself and allows the other dog to focus on something different.

When the puppies are playing nicely you can try taking off the leashes completely, but play close attention to your puppy’s stress signals.  It is fine for your puppy to check in with you for some love, but if they are hiding from being chased and seem scared it may be time for a break.  Remember, we want to keep the event positive for all puppies involved.  You can also use this time to call your puppy to you from time to time to let them know they may be called even during play time.

This is the first in a series of socializing your puppy so check back for the following articles.  If you have anything to add, please feel free to leave a comment in the comments section below.  Dog training is constantly evolving and we can all learn from each other’s experiences.