FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — Raising a puppy can be like raising a child for many Fairfield County dog owners. Like bringing up a child, it is important for owners to socialize their puppies and introduce them to a variety of experiences at an early age.
"You don't want to just keep your puppy in one or two rooms," said Michele Wan, a Westport animal behavior therapist who also teaches puppy socialization classes at the Animal Wellness Veterinary Center in Norwalk.
"You want your puppy to be out and about. Be careful, but you do want to expose it to life."
The most important socialization in a dog's life takes place within the first three months. During this time, owners should take their dogs for drives in the car and introduce them to new noises, smells, sights and other dogs.
"After three months, they're a little more wary, and more likely to have a fearful response. It's easier early on, when they're less fearful and more exploratory."
It's important for owners to introduce them to different types of people of all ages, sizes, shapes and ethnicities, Wan says. "If they've only met five people, which can happen and has happened, they can become afraid of people slightly different. They'll only be accustomed to people they know, and not comfortable around anyone else."
Puppy owners should introduce their pets to the outside world gradually, so as not to overwhelm the animals. Any exposure to something that might frighten the animal or make them nervous should be accompanied by treats, so that puppies can develop a positive association with it.
Classes can be a safe environment for puppies to get to know other dogs and become a little more familiar with the outside world. Wan says you shouldn't take your puppy to a dog park early on, especially if they're not vaccinated.
Make sure your puppy becomes familiar with anything that you think they may have to live with later on in life. Let them walk on different kinds of floor surfaces, play CDs of different sounds they may hear, run the vacuum cleaner or wear different kinds of clothes.
"Dogs do not like Halloween. They can't see the eyes or the body shape. It's very alarming to them."
Like any number of experiences, those Halloween costumes will be much less scary later on if the puppy is introduced to it early.