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5 puppies from Scout's first litter as the go to their forever homes

Socialization Tips for New Puppy Owners

Everybody wants a happy, outgoing and friendly dog.  While some dogs are more outgoing due to their natural traits, it is every dog owner's responsibility to socialize their dog.  A well-socialized dog is a joy to live with. He will readily accept change, new people, and interact comfortably with his own species. Socialization is a continuous process that begins at around 3 weeks within the litter, and continues throughout the life of the canine. However, puppy hood is the ideal time for any pet owner to take advantage of, as this is the time that has the greatest impact on the dog’s future behavior and personality. The ‘socializing period’ is a crucial time in any puppy’s life but this is especially true for the Irish Water Spaniel. A puppy purchaser has a great window of opportunity to ‘shape’ the future personality of the dog during this time. Everything the puppy experiences is new and if controlled by the owner, each experience should be safe, happy and positive.

The breeder plays a large role in the socialization process as this process begins at 3 weeks of age.  You should ask any breeder you are considering buying a puppy from questions about how they will raise and socialize the puppy before it is sold to you.  If you are not comfortable with the answers, ask more questions or find another breeder. 

But it is critical to remember that socialization is not just something the breeder does.  You must socialize your IWS and it continues from the moment you purchase your puppy.  Even the most outgoing IWS can become shy and lack confidence if you do not socialize your puppy.  You can do much within your own home. Invite friends and neighborhood children over to sit down on the floor and hand-feed your new puppy.  This is a wonderful way to expose your dog to strangers and the little hands of children. With your supervision, the puppy will learn through this experience that children are safe, and those little hands reaching forward to pet the puppy are gentle. Associating ‘touch’ with something the puppy already enjoys like food makes that ‘first’ contact with children and strangers a pleasant experience. Also, this is a grand time to educate young children about dogs.

I did a lot of my socialization with my dogs by taking them everywhere I went.  We went to many different places to train including school yards, parks, and even PetSmart.  I took them to my friends' houses when we trained or visited.  Drake went to work with me a couple of times too.  I also take my puppies to any trials or shows that I take my adult dogs too.  They get a chance to meet a lot of dogs and people.  My puppies also ride along to any dog class I'm going too.  Socializing your IWS pup is easy, fun and most of all; it helps you establish a great relationship.

Throw some treats in your pocket and begin to take him for walks down the street. Puppies are adorable, and attract a lot of attention. Anyone that passes by will enjoy petting him. Offer your neighbor a small treat to feed to your pup; he will soon learn to ‘enjoy’ strangers. Offer another piece of food as you approach the mailbox and fire hydrant.  Encourage him to investigate, and then give him a treat for doing so. These things along the street can produce an array of responses from your dog, ranging from very scary to very curious. Get him use to the ‘everyday’ sights and sounds of children playing, cars passing by, and people petting him. 

One of the best seminars I've ever gone to on dog behavior and relationship training is Suzanne Clothier.  I've been to several of her seminars.  I can't say enough about how good she is.  She has a wonderful, calm approach with dogs and her insight into training that is based on a respectful relationship really has hit home for me.  Her information is  She has a lot of good information on her site about socialization, the stages of puppy development and the important of building a strong relationship.

Never force your IWS into a situation.  If they are unsure, just make them sit and be well behaved.  Stressing them into a situation they are not comfortable with will only create fear.  Some IWS will be bolder than others so it's up to you as the owner to gage at what pace you should go.  All IWS puppies will go through a phase where they may not be as confident in a new situation, usually between the ages of 8 -15 months of age.  Be patient, don’t force them but also don’t coddle them.  By saying “it’s okay,” it only reinforces the negative association and reaction.  I don’t force my IWS to be petted by strangers.  If they don’t want to be petted, don’t force it and don’t coddle them.  This will only reinforce the reaction.  Instead, just make them sit beside you.  As they go to more places and experience new things, they will learn that it is fun and that people are a good thing. 

Dog parks are not a good way to socialize your puppy.  Dog parks put your puppy at risk, as many dogs at the local dog park may not be social and friendly or may be sick. You would be surprised how many adult dogs attend dog parks without proper training or socialization. This will put your new puppy at considerable risk for not only picking up diseases, but also getting hurt or bitten by an older dog. 

If you choose to attend a puppy class, make sure it is taught by a reputable instructor and not just somebody claiming to be qualified.  Most reputable instructors ‘screen’ each puppy prior to registration. This will help to put the puppy owner at ease simply knowing that the risks involved have been minimized.

Socialization must be approached with a common sense attitude. If you would like to have the kind of adult dog that will be a joy to not only you, but also society, then you should begin while he is still a puppy, the younger the better. Think of all the things he will most likely come in contact with during his lifetime, and expose him to those things now in the most ‘positive’ format you can muster up. The ‘greater’ his experiences are while he is still young, the better his chances are of handling new situations, new people, and a joy to take out into the world with you. 

I can not stress enough that socializing your puppy to new things should be a positive and pleasant experience for him. Learning is stressful. Expose him at a rate that he can absorb new information, not be overwhelmed by it.  A key to remember is to treat your dog as brave.  If you believe he will be brave, he will grow up to be a confident dog.  If you believe he will be timid or shy, that is what you will get in an adult dog.

Most puppies would rather race around like wild things than sit quietly by your side. Your puppy should not be allowed or encouraged to do anything now that you would not like when she's fully grown. Rewarding her for good behavior increases the likelihood of it recurring. Structuring her free time with games and toys provides an outlet for the "puppy crazies".


Rewards come in many forms. For some puppies, your eye contact is all that is needed to motivate them to mischief. Other puppies may find rewards in your cat's litter box. Attention or eye contact, vocal praise and petting, edible stuff, etc. are all forms of rewards for a puppy. Timing a reward to coincide with a behavior you like should occur during or immediately after the desired behavior. Correcting a behavior should also occur within this time frame. Delayed corrections are punishment and don't provide enough information for her to get it right the next time.

Introduction to New Things

Introduce her to new items gradually. For example, indoors a vacuum cleaner is often a top panic- producing experience. It's large and loud and it moves! To show her that it is no threat, put the vacuum in the middle of a room. Allow her to investigate when it is turned off. Next, turn it on for a second, turn off, put a tasty treat on it and walk away. At first, she may show no interest in investigating the machine. Encourage her if she approaches the vacuum, but never force her. Hopefully, she will take the treat and gain confidence as you repeat this many times, leaving the vacuum on longer each time. When she readily approaches, start moving the vacuum slowly before turning off. The more this is done and she realizes that nothing is hurting her, the faster she will take it in stride.

Car Travel

Do you plan to take your puppy on errands, to the beach, to the park? If so, what association would you like her to have with car travel? The car can cause a lot of stress in some puppies. If at first her only rides are to the veterinarian's, she may develop negative associations with cars. Vomiting and excessive drooling are some of the signs that she is stressed. Make cars a fun place for her. Bring along a favorite toy and play with her in the back seat for a few minutes. Then take a short drive around the block and play with her briefly again before going inside. Avoid traveling with her if she has eaten recently. The use of a crate for car travel makes most puppies feel safer.

One of the most effective ways I exposed Scout to travel and to socialize her was to take her to every agility event I took Drake too.  She tagged along, learned that traveling was fun, and met a lot of people.


To prepare her for veterinary visits handle her all over on a daily basis. She will also need to be comfortable with strangers handling and gently restraining her. Make mock veterinary visits to build a positive association for her. Go once weekly and ask the staff to give her treats. This way, she will go to the veterinarian's office five times a month and have something unpleasant happen only once. You may actually end up with a puppy that looks forward to her vet visits.

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 will be creating a phobia that will often last a lifetime. It's better to go slow and assure your puppy is not frightened or injured than to rush and force your pup to meet new things and people.

  •  Invite friends over to meet your pup. Include men, women, youngsters, oldsters, different ethnic backgrounds, etc.   This should occur often, at least once a week.

  • Invite friendly and healthy 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.

  • Take your pup to shopping centers, parks, school playgrounds, etc; places where there are crowds of people and plenty of activity.   This should occur daily during the pups first 3 months at home.

  • 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 his environment.

  • Get your puppy accustomed to seeing different and unfamiliar objects by creating your own. 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 and all the routines of grooming and physical examination.

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

 Socialization Don'ts

  • Do not let your pup socialize with dogs that appear sick or dogs that you don't know.

  • 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 and different.

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

  • Do not force or rush your puppy. Let your puppy take things at his own pace. Your job is 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 frequent and very brief exposures than occasional prolonged exposures.

 Remember, every day your dog learns something and every day is an opportunity of a lifetime that is lost forever. You can never get these days back. If you are not teaching your dog something positive, they may be learning something negative.


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