QQ is our first dog. As first time dog owners, even though we did a ton of research and tried our best to make every decision with as much knowledge as we can garner, we still made a ton of mistakes.
Some of these mistakes were minor, and some were just plain stupid. Such as trying on a backpack on QQ when he was 5 months old. He was so filled with energy we kept thinking of ways to work it off. We read that carrying a backpack on walks help to release extra energy from dogs, so we tried it on QQ. We didn’t consider that he was just a small sized puppy. We put it on him, and he basically sat down and didn’t get up. When we did succeed in luring him to get up with treats, he promptly flopped over and couldn’t get up because of the weight of the backpack.
Silly mistakes aside, there were some pretty major mistakes we made.
I think the worst mistake we made was socialization. To be accurate, the lack of socialization. We were told that we should socialize QQ before he hits 16 weeks old. However, because of QQ’s vaccination schedule, he was only due to get his rabies vaccination when he is 16 weeks old. I was extremely paranoid and didn’t want to expose him to any possible dangers before he is fully vaccinated.
We only socialized QQ with our neighbor’s dogs that I trust is fully vaccinated, and we did playdates with a few of the other puppies that our trainer was also training. We did have our friends over to play with QQ as often as we could. But it was not enough. We took him to dog parks and took him everywhere once he got his rabies shot, but it was too late.
What we should have done was to take QQ to puppy socials. As frequently as we could, preferably every other day at least. Puppy socials give all the puppies a chance to get to know the world at their own pace.
Someone also told me about a couple that brought their puppy downtown, sat at a highly visible chair with a jar of treats, and basically invited people to pet their puppy and feed him treats. They sat there until the jar of treats was empty and they did this almost daily.
If only I could turn the clock back, this is one thing I would change in a heartbeat. I will socialize QQ everyday between the age of 12 and 16 weeks.
Because of the lack of socialization during this crucial period, QQ is very leash reactive. He goes crazy barking and lunging when he sees a passing dog when he’s on leash. Sometimes, boisterous children also triggers his reactivity. We have been working on controlling this reactivity for a long, long time. It’s very disheartening and it kills me to know that it’s because I was so paranoid about keeping him safe and lack of complete knowledge that caused it. I didn’t believe that waiting 4 weeks before socializing could make such a difference. But it did.
An article I read said that once the puppy crossed over into 16 weeks, the door slams shut. Dogs mature at a much quicker rate than humans. We always speak of how a dog ages at seven times that of humans. At 3 months, a dog can walk and run whereas a human baby can’t. The article likened it to learning a language. If a kid learns a language well before he turns 12, he speaks it like a native. If he learns a new language after the age of 12, it will always be a second language for him, he can be fluent at it, but it takes a lot more effort and it’ll never come to him as naturally as a native language. Dogs can be socialized after week 16, but it’ll be so much more difficult and they will never have the same ease as dogs that were socialized between week 12 and 16 in the presence of strangers. I’m not sure how much of these information is based on fact, but it do make sense to me. Naturally, this is speaking of dogs in general. Just like there are children that are more linguistically inclined and could still pick up languages easily even after the optimal age, there are probably dogs that have very sociable personalities that are unlikely to show anxiety-related aggressive traits even if under-socialized. Unfortunately, QQ isn’t one of those dogs.
I blame myself often for failing QQ in this matter. So if there’s one advice I can give new dog owners, it is to socialize, socialize, socialize. Especially between the ages of 12 and 16. Play it safe, take your puppy to puppy socials. Take them often. Don’t do it only once a week. Do it daily if you can. It’s only 4 weeks. Work hard for this 4 weeks and it’ll save you so much heartache in the future. And you get to play with so many puppies! It’s definitely a win-win all round.