10. Socialization and puppy training are of the utmost importance as puppyhood is the most critical time in your dog's development. What you do and do not do right now will affect your dog's behavior forever.

A properly socialized puppy is well adjusted and makes a good companion. It is neither frightened by nor aggressive towards anyone or anything it would normally meet in day-to-day living. A non-socialized dog can be untrustworthy and a potential liability. They can often become fear-biters or like to fight with other dogs. Non-socialized dogs cannot adapt to new situations quickly and as an example, a simple routine visit to the vet may be a nightmare not only for the dog itself, but for everyone involved. So, don't let this happen to you and your dog. Start socializing your new puppy NOW!

The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine believes that the critical socialization period lasts up to approximately 12 weeks (3 months) of age which is why at First Stryk Dobermanns we begin the socialization process as early as we can and prefer to keep our puppies with their Mum and littermates until the age of 10-12 weeks in order to ensure that they are exposed to as many positive learning experiences in as safe an environment as possible. However, at 12 weeks, the puppy must continue socialization to refine its social skills. Socialization most easily occurs before the puppy is 3 months old. Any later than that and it becomes an excruciatingly difficult and time-consuming process that very few owners have the time, energy, money or patience to cope with.

At First Stryk Dobermanns, I understand and completely agree with the importance of early, and ongoing, socialization. Those early experiences help to shape the future temperament, character and confidence of your puppy. I believe that the breeder, in addition to selecting the appropriate dam and sire to be bred, has an enormous responsibility to provide as many safe experiences designed to create positive social interactions for the puppies in their care. As a result, in our home, puppies are provided with a variety of ongoing music (we call it "Music of the Week") selections around the clock; as much safe, health interaction as possible with my boyfriend's sons, friends and family; when they are 4 weeks old until the time they leave with their new owners, pups are allowed to play in a safe, ever-changing "Playland" designed to boost confidence and dexterity (for pictures of Puppy Playland, visit our Gallery page.).

Socialization Do's

Make sure that each of the following events are pleasant and non-threatening. If your puppy's first experience with something is painful and frightening, you will be defeating your purpose. In fact, you could be creating a phobia that will often last a lifetime. It's better to go too slow and ensure your puppy is not frightened or injured than to rush and force your pup to meet new things and people which may make them uncomfortable or scared.

* After your pup has had a chance to settle into its new home, invite friends over to meet them. Include men, women, youngsters, oldsters, different ethnic backgrounds, etc.

* Invite friendly, healthy, vaccinated dogs, puppies and even cats to your home to meet and play with your new puppy. Take your puppy to the homes of these pets, preferably with dog-friendly cats.

* Carry your pup to shopping centers, parks, school playgrounds, etc.; places where there are crowds of people and plenty of activity.

* Take your puppy for short, frequent rides in the car. Stop the car and let your puppy watch the world go by through the window.

* Introduce your puppy to umbrellas, bags, boxes, the vacuum cleaner, etc. Encourage your puppy to explore and investigate its environment.

* Get your puppy accustomed to seeing different and unfamiliar objects by creating your own "Playland." Set a chair upside down. Lay the trash can (empty) on its side, set up the ironing board right-side up one day and upside down the next day.

* Introduce your puppy to new and various sounds. Loud, obnoxious sounds should be introduced from a distance and gradually brought closer.

* Accustom your puppy to being brushed, bathed, inspected, having its nails clipped, teeth and ears cleaned - the routines of grooming and physical examination.

* Introduce your puppy to stairs, his own collar and leash. Introduce anything and everything you want your puppy to be comfortable with and around.

Socialization Don'ts

* Do not put your puppy on the ground where unknown animals have access. This is where your puppy can pick up diseases. Wait until your puppy's shots are completed. Do not let your pup socialize with dogs that appear sick or dogs that you don't know, that may not be vaccinated.

* Do not reward fearful behavior. In a well-meaning attempt to sooth, encourage or calm the puppy when it appears frightened, we often unintentionally reward the behavior. It's normal for the puppy to show some signs of apprehension when confronting anything new or different.

* Do not allow the experience to be harmful, painful or excessively frightening. This can cause lifetime phobias in your dog. Take your time!

* Do not force or rush your puppy. Let your puppy take things at his own pace. Your job is simply to provide the opportunity.

* Do not do too much at one time. Young puppies need a lot of sleep and tire quickly. It is much more productive to have brief, frequent exposures than occasional prolonged exposures.

* DO NOT WAIT! Every day that goes by is an opportunity of a lifetime that is lost forever. You can never get these days back.

For some more great information on socializing your puppy or adults dogs, please visit the Partnership for Animal Welfare website's training tips at: paw-rescue.org or do an internet search with the keywords "socialization" and "dogs."