Pet owners aren’t adequately socializing their puppies

A significant number of pet owners fail to adequately socialize their puppies, putting their dogs at risk of developing behavioural problems down the road, say U of G researchers.

Ontario Veterinary College professors Jason Coe and Lee Niel and post-doc Janet Cutler found that one-third of pet owners failed to expose their puppies to enough social stimuli, including people and animals, during the first few months of the dogs’ lives.

“This is concerning because it means a significant proportion of pet owners are missing the small window between two and 14 weeks where socialization is such a crucial piece in the behavioural development of dogs,” says Coe.

“It’s a limited opportunity where pet owners can have such an influence on a puppy’s life and increase the likelihood of preventing the behaviours that can result in these animals being returned to shelters.”

As well, 51 per cent of pet owners failed to attend puppy classes. The researchers found significant differences in puppy behaviour and owners’ disciplinary techniques between those who attended classes and those who didn’t.

Puppies that didn’t attend classes were more likely to be fearful of noise, such as vacuum cleaners and thunder, and to react fearfully to crate training.

Pet owners who didn’t attend classes were more likely to use punishment-based discipline such as yelling or holding their puppy on its back, the study says.

“This speaks to how puppy classes aren’t just about obedience,” says Coe. “They are about exposing your pet to other people and animals as well as educating pet owners.”

Properly socialized puppies are less likely to be hyperactive or fearful, engage in unwanted chewing or show aggression toward people or other pets, Cutler adds.

“These problem behaviours in dogs are the leading cause of breakdown in the human-dog relationship and are associated with relinquishment,” she says.