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To understand how owners can help their puppies develop into well socialized and well behaved adult dogs, it is important to stay active in your puppy's development throughout the stages of their life. While some stages require more attention and some require a bit less, the overall effect of positive human dog interaction is widely known by experts on dog behavior. Puppies that are not socialized will mature into dogs that are nervous and anxious, timid or aggressive, and do not bond with their families. In addition, dogs that are not well socialized will be more aggressive towards other dogs and are more likely to have problematic behaviors as they mature.
Bonding is a term that is used very commonly to describe the relationship between a dog and his or her family. Bonding is an emotional connection between the dog and the owner that is very unique with canines. It is their love for attention from their owners, as well as the dog's willingness to respond to owner commands. It is also the driving force in dog's protecting or watching over family members and property. Without a strong bond between the dog and the family the dog will not have any natural protective instincts of the family and area. This bonding is directly related to the natural pack instincts of dogs, but the humans become the pack in the dog's mind.
Since the first bonding must occur when the puppy is very young, the first interaction will be with the mother dog and the littermates. It is critical for the puppy to be allowed to interact with the mother and brothers and sisters, with very little direct human interaction at this time. Owners should be around the puppies, and gently and very carefully handle the puppies for extremely short periods of time, but the focus of this time in the puppies' life should be limited human interaction. Typically this minimal human interaction period will last until the puppies start to eat puppy food, at approximately 4 to 6 weeks.
It is important to note that this period is very critical for the puppy but there does need to be human proximity to the puppies. People in the puppy's life should still spend time around the puppy at this time. People should talk to the puppies and gently pet and touch the puppies. It is important to avoid picking the puppies up, or causing any kind of anxiety with the puppies by separation them from the mother. If the puppies are picked up and handled it should only be done by an adult. Never let children handle the puppies, as there is just too much risk of them being hurt or dropped. Puppies that are hurt by humans at this stage may become more timid or even afraid of people.
After Weaning - Toddler Stage
The toddler stage is just like when a child starts to learn about their environment and what they are expected to do. During a puppy's toddler stage, the puppies need a lot of attention as the human family now replaces the litter and the mother. Many breeds will bond very strongly with one person in the family, and then bond less strongly with the rest of the family. Some breeds will only bond with one or two people, but will still be very social with the rest of the family. Occasionally dogs will be "one person" dogs, that seem to only bond with and respond to one person. Usually, the more that puppies in the toddler stage have positive interactions with humans, the stronger and deeper the bonding will be.
At this time all activities including training, socialization, grooming and even going for a walk will be critical in the puppy's development. Human interaction should be frequent and regular, as well as very positive. Avoid yelling at the puppy or raising your voice, as a puppy is very sensitive to sound at this time. Never physically punish a puppy in this stage, rather simply use a sharp "no" and withdrawal of attention as a punishment. Since the bond has already formed, this should be a significant deterrent for the behavior. The more contact that puppies have with their owners and other people at this time, the more social the puppy will when he or she matures.
Remember that the more contact the puppy will have with many different people, the more accepting of strangers they will be in the future. When having your puppy interact with new people, be sure to keep the interactions positive for the puppy.
The Teenage Stage
During the teenage stage, the puppy may appear to be fully mature physically but will still be a teenager in social and emotional development. Puppies or young dogs at the teenage stage still require daily, frequent and highly positive interactions with their owners. Daily grooming, training sessions, walks, play times and just being part of the family are absolutely essential. As with the toddler stage, the more attention the puppy is provided at this time the better they will adjust to new events, activities and situations.
Teenage puppies are often rather independent, and may seem to actually regress with regards to their behavior and social interactions. They may seem to be rather independent, with an "I know better than you" attitude. Owners may also find that dogs want to play all the time at this stage, and this is often a great way to interact and start out training sessions on a positive note.
Often, teenage puppies don't know how to ask for attention properly. They may start jumping up for attention, biting at people, or even barking and behaving very juvenile in an attempt to attract your attention. Usually this behavior can be corrected with additional attention, and some gentle and positive retraining.
Keep in mind that at this stage the dog is still a puppy at heart, and in behavior. An obedience class is often highly recommended for puppies at this stage, even if they have already completed one as a puppy. In addition, specialized training such as hunting, retrieving, obedience or agility training is a wonderful way for humans and their dogs to continue to have positive interactions.
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