Chimera Shih Tzu • AKC Shih Tzu Puppies • SW Florida
Socialization is important for all dogs, especially puppies learning to navigate the world. However, we need to practice safe socialization to keep our Shih Tzu safe. Discuss safe socialization protocol with your veterinarian at your first visit to prevent disease in your young vulnerable puppy. We also want to make sure puppy is having positive socialization experiences. If we force them into situations or stimulus they are not ready for, then we can inadvertently create fearful, reactive dogs, instead of solid balanced dogs. Follow your puppy’s lead with socialization. They are each individuals and should be respected as such. Don’t push for more than your puppy can handle. Practice, practice, practice! Lots of small, easy trips out of the house is better than one big overwhelming festival. Let your Shih Tzu build up their confidence incrementally.
Expose your pup to a wide variety of sounds, sights, smells, textures, and different environments. Do this early and often. Take puppy everwhere that pets are allowed, as long as weather permits. Keep your puppy feeling comfortable and safe. It’s ok to hold puppy, put them in a shopping cart on a blanket or dog bed, or put them in a doggy stroller, to allow them to see and hear the world around them while feeling safe in their own space.
Playgrounds & Parks
I like to take puppies to an empty playground a couple of times. Bring lots of treats. I prefer very small cut up pieces of cooked chicken. Give treats often in rapid succession. Make this the best day EVER!! Place them on the sand or rubber matting, let them feel that different sensory input on their toes. Set them up on the metal grate floor of the playground equipment. Let them feel that cold metal under their feet. If the stairs are a suitable size, place them at the top of the stairs and call their name in an excited voice so they navigate the stairs back down to you. Try going down the slide with puppy in your lap. set puppy down on the bench of the picnic tables. Let them sit and feel that underneat them, while observing everything around them. The swing could be a fun experience, too! Don’t forget to use a happy, excited voice, and use lots of treats!
Then, find a playground or park that is busy with activity. Don’t get in the way of the kids, but just find somewhere out of the way to sit with puppy. A shaded grassy area on a blanket works nicely, or sitting at one of the covered benches. Just sit, read a book, check your phone. Relax while letting puppy relax. Allow them the time to look around, listen, observe, and take it all in. Let their brains make all these connections that these are safe, routine noises, sounds, and movements – nothing to be afraid of!
Take your Shih Tzu on car rides often in the first few weeks. They don’t need to be long car rides or for any particular purpose. Just jump in the car with pup, drive around the block or down to the fast food joint. Get them used to going for rides ‘just because’ and with lots of praise! You can put them on their seat with a dog bed to give them their own place to sit, and a chew stick or chicken foot to gnaw on. This positive experience early in life will help reduce car sickness and anxieties. It will make traveling a pleasant experience for you both in the following years.
Pet Stores & Other Stores
I like to use caution when taking puppy to stores. Being high traffic dog area, there are more doggy germs that your vulnerable puppy could pick up. Being so small and young, it can be overwhelming and intimidating to walk around with a bunch of giant people stomping, barking dogs that could attack puppy, and an assault of smells and odors from the floor – to a puppy’s keen sense of smell. Instead of leash walking, I start puppies out in the pet stores and other stores being carried or in a shopping cart. This allows them the safety and security of your arms while giving them the chance to look around, listen, smell, with the comfort of being held by mom. This is a much more pleasant experience for new puppies and creates a positive socialization experience. You can even allow people to say hi, offer bites of cut up chicken pieces, or pet your puppy, depending on their acceptance.
Grooming is an important part of socialization. Getting your puppy to the groomer early and often for puppy grooming will allow them to get used to all that goes on at the groomers. Like other socialization experiences, this is an opportunity to provide positive experiences early in life while their developing brain is making connections. You don’t need to have puppy’s hair trimmed at all, if you don’t want. The first visit should only be to actually visit the groomer. Meet the groomer, sit on the table, hear the blow dryers and bath running, smell the shampoos and doggies. Make sure your groomer is highly recommended and will make this a positive exposure for your pup. Then you can start getting sanitation cuts, feet shaved, nails trimmed, faces tidied up around the eyes, ears checked, and whatever else your experienced groomer recommends at each age.
Puppy Training Classes
One of the best socialization tools is puppy training classes. Make sure the trainer requires and checks for first vaccines to avoid exposing your puppy to any scary germs. A good trainer will have puppy class setup to minimize stress on the puppy and maximize exposure and socialization. They will teach you some great training tips, but the value of this class is really to expose puppy to new places, people, flooring, other dogs, and more. Highly recommended!!
While I do NOT recommend dog parks for puppies, it is smart to schedule or attend organized play groups with dog savvy people and friendly, well mannered, vaccinated pets. You might find a group run by your local humane society, local dog group on Facebook, or simply collect your favorite people and dogs, invite them to meet you somewhere with relatively low dog traffic or in your own back yard.
Schedule a visit to your veterinarian just to say hello. Ask the veterinarian and technicians to not handle your puppy in any way that could scare them, on this trip. Such as thermometers, scales, fecal checks, mouth checks. This isn’t a health check, just a hello visit to implant good feelings of safety and security with your puppy in regards to trips to the veterinarian.
When socializing, the more dog traffic there is in a certain place or surface, the greater risk there is for your puppy to pickup an illness or parasite.
Socializing should always be fun and relaxed. If your dog is hesitant or overwhelmed, you need to step back. Give lots of praise, treats, and go at the pace they are comfortable.
Avoid scary incidents. Walking on a busy road with motorcycles or speeding cars is scary. Getting attacked by a larger off leash dog is scary. Children rushing up and grabbing your face is scary. These types of scenarios are not socializing, they are JUST SCARY and can actually cause fearful and even reactive behavior to develop in your puppy.
Keep puppy current on vaccines and deworming to help keep them healthy and safe.
There are many socialization opportunities – find your favorite! Even if they aren’t touched by anyone, they are still getting out and experiencing new & familiar sights, sounds, feels (like the swerving and turning of car), different weather, different lighting, lots of things to learn about in the environments around us. They may even see people of different ethnicities, wearing different seasonal clothing, different heights, some in uniforms, some with glasses or canes, some kids, some elderly, some loud, some quiet.