The Importance of Early Experiences

Reader: “I have a giant breed dog. The breeder advised me to socialize him early and often. What ways do you suggest and what should I avoid?”
Dear reader, I too have a giant breed, an Irish Wolfhound named Kya; they should meet! A dog’s sensitive socialization period is between the ages of 3 weeks to 3 months. It is during this time that they learn what is safe and what is scary. This is one of the reasons why we do not have wild animals running to greet us from the woods! Therefore, it is crucial for canines to be gradually habituated and exposed to a variety of objects, sounds, environments, new dogs and new people. Puppies that do not receive adequate environmental enrichment and socialization can grow up to be fearful or even aggressive once they reach developmental maturity (24 months).
To keep your pup properly socialized, I would find a reputable daycare program in your area. If you can find a program tailored to puppies, even better! When selecting a daycare, ensure the care provider is well versed in canine body language and behavior. Initial experiences should be carefully monitored so they learn that other dogs are safe, not scary. It’s for this reason I gently recommend avoiding dog parks; leave these early experiences to the professionals. Since giant breeds have open growth plates, I would pay attention to the structures in the play area. Equipment that fosters excessing jumping is not appropriate for these breeds.
Also, create regular opportunities for your pup to meet new people. Tall and short, male and female – your pup is generalizing their knowledge that all humans are friendly and safe!
Environmental exposure is just as fundamental to a dog’s development and overall balance. Play a fireworks recording at increasing levels of volume while administering treats to lessen the likelihood of a sound phobia later in life. Take them to new places, show them different objects and encourage healthy investigation with rewards and praise. Dogs learn by trial and error, so guard their experiences, create happy associations and have fun with your new puppy!

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