Socialization, a term long familiar to breeders, has become an undefined or poorly defined buzzword used to separate breeders into categories. Good breeders socialize their puppies; poor breeders don’t even know that puppies need socialization. So, what is socialization? Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “socialize”as “to make social; adjust to or make fit for cooperative group living.” Socialization is the process of “making social.” Here’s How Breeder’s Apply "Socialization” To The Rearing of Puppies. A German Shepherd is a highly intelligent breed capable of a multitude of tasks. If you fill his mind with information and develop his confidence, you will develop the most cherished relationship that you will ever enjoy with a dog!
The beginning of this great relationship is with the breeder, but it doesn’t stop there. Puppy socialization and the exposure to different environments are multifaceted. From the time the puppies reach four to five weeks old they should have the opportunity for exploration. At this early age, puppies learn at an incredibly quick pace. As a pack, puppies will gain confidence, and as they mature, each puppy will learn independence. Puppies normally go into their new homes at age seven or eight weeks; by this age, well socialized puppies have already seen an assortment of things, heard different noises, and taken in different smells, making them very advanced and more adaptable. It is the new owner’s responsibility to continue the development of his puppy. Puppies grow in stages, and these stages make smoother transitions with a confident puppy. Owners should continue the exposure through the next eight to 16 weeks by allowing the puppy to investigate his own environment (home and other environments away from home). Walks in the woods and exposure to livestock and cats is beneficial at this age.
When taking an eight week old German Shepherd puppy from his littermates, it is important to establish a good human-dog relationship, particularly if the dog is purchased for competing in an activity or as a potential working dog. The connection that a GSD makes with his owner will carry him through activities with the least amount of conflict and with the strongest desire to please his owner. An owner who is active and fulfills his dog’s activity needs will have the greatest companion. Socialization with strange dogs is important once the puppy is current with vaccinations. It is vital that the GSD puppy’s owner knows the other dog so that his puppy doesn't receive a bad experience. Do not assume that all dogs will like your puppy, as many dogs do not like any other dogs.
Allowing brief interaction with docile adults or another puppy of a similar age will satisfy your dog’s needs to meet others like himself and lower his guard of the "unknown" dog. It is common for a three and a half or four-month old (and older) GSD puppy to bark aggressively at other dogs. Docile and non-dog aggressive dogs will help neutralize this behavior through light-hearted interaction. Socialization with strangers is critically important for GSDs. Regardless of whether the dog will be a working dog, competition dog or family pet, socialization through positive reinforcement is essential.
A GSD should not act aggressively without provocation. Owners can socialize these GSD puppies by allowing them (not pushing or pulling) to approach other people and encouraging these people to give the puppy a quick treat to reinforce the approach. This is important for a GSD during the first year and sometimes two years of his life. Without these opportunities, a GSD can become a fear biter that will not protect you reliably and may become a serious liability. Most owners of working dogs, whether involved in search and rescue, therapy, police canines, or other pursuits, understand the importance of exposure to other environments, dogs, and people.
A GSD will be a positive example of the breed; without this guidance, the reputation of the German Shepherd suffers. As a puppy matures, it is important that he is familiarized with humans and the world outside his immediate home. This is puppy socialization; it includes interacting with people in the puppy’s immediate family and also with people outside the family unit. He should be comfortable with men and women and also adults and children. The same division of socialization can be true with regard to animals, i.e., dogs (andother pets such as cats) that are in the family unit and those animals that are outside the immediate household. A puppy that is not properly socialized can grow up to be a fearful dog. When the puppy is 21 days old it will begin to learn, and then the contact with humans becomes critical for that puppy the feel, the smell, the sound, the sight of people.
By the time the puppy leaves the breeder at eight weeks of age or older, it will have been exposed to a number of people, different places (as simple as different rooms of the house and different parts of the yard) and new situations. It will have learned some basic manners, limitations (fingers are not edible!) and perhaps some basic obedience commands (sit, down, come). It will have learned about nail trims and teeth exams. Once the mother’s work is well underway, it is our turn as breeders to assist the process. Exposure to as many different noises, sights, smells and experiences is vital to producing a stable, well tempered puppy. Car rides, collars, walking on leash, cats, other breeds of dogs, children, high pitched voices and crates all are seemingly simple, everyday stimuli that we expect our dogs to respond favorably to. We often take for granted that these are all new and therefore potentially threatening experiences for a puppy.
When someone they have learned to trust exposes them to the new experience, it reduces the stress and can be quickly viewed in a favorable light. Learning during this socialization period is permanent. By seven or eight weeks a puppy may be ready to expand its world from the breeder’s home to its own home. A breeder knows when each individual puppy is ready to leave the comfort of its litter. The breeder then matches each puppy with a home suited for each puppy’s temperament. It is imperative the new family continue with daily socialization and positive new experiences. Shaping a puppy during the socialization period is all up to us. With our love and understanding, a puppy will develop to its full potential. It is the best chance for a dog to have a long healthy life in one home and not end up losing its home because of behavioral problems – problems that could have easily been avoided with proper socialization as a puppy followed by additional socialization and training in their new home.