(...) Make sure that the bulk of the puppy’s experiences are positive, however, and avoid the occasional adult who is really ugly with puppies. In particular, if you have other dogs of your own, try to intervene as little as possible if they decide to discipline the puppy. You should take action only if there is serious bullying going on. It is critical that your pup learns to understand that he is at the bottom of the pack. If you incessantly defend the puppy, he may decide to challenge your older dog when he reaches adolescence. The older dog’s response to a puppy will usually be nothing more severe than a growl or a nip, but in the case of an adolescent this may develop into a full-scale fight with severe injuries to one or both dogs.
Reward recalls: Call the puppy over and over again and give him a treat or a cuddle every time he comes to you, no matter what he’s been up to. Never, ever, ever call him and then punish him (this is the Number One New Dog Owners Mistake!). He will associate the punishment with coming when called, and not with whatever he was doing before you called him, and you will end up with a dog who is resistant to coming on command. You want to condition your puppy to believe that coming to you is the best thing in the whole world; this will stand you in good stead when you start doing serious obedience work later on.
Keep the volume high: The more positive experiences your puppy has and the greater the variety of situations you can introduce him to, the better. Ten good experiences are better than one, and fifty are better than ten.
What happens if your puppy does have a bad experience? Suppose your neighbour comes to visit with two small children who bully the puppy and frighten it badly?
All is not lost, as your pup is still highly imprintable. What matters now is that you try to create a large number of positive experiences with children. One good experience won’t undo the damage; twenty or thirty might well. Find a doggy friend who has a child who is well-behaved around dogs. Introduce the child to your puppy and ask him or her just to feed treats at first. If the puppy won’t go near the child, don’t force the issue. Try feeding the puppy some really high-quality treats yourself while the child is in the same room. Gradually bring the child nearer and nearer while you feed, until the puppy will tolerate him or her quite close by. After a while, the child should be able to feed the puppy, and then to stroke it while he feeds it, and eventually to cuddle it and handle it. It is extremely important to go at the puppy’s pace; at the first sign of nervousness the child should back off, but as soon as he or she has left the room you should also stop feeding the treat. The puppy will learn that the treat is associated with the child, and that if he wants to go on getting the treat, he’s going to have to tolerate the child near him.
If you can find a child who can sit still for long enough, another very useful technique is to lay a trail of treats up to the child and scatter a few on the child’s body. Let the puppy find the treats and approach at his own pace; this helps him to overcome his fear. This is also useful with older dogs who are afraid of people.
Repeat this with as many different children as possible, as many times as possible. If your puppy has a nervous temperament, it may take some time and patience on your part. If he’s a more confident, resilient puppy he will probably bounce back without too much trouble.
The objective of puppy socialisation is not to stress your puppy out by flooding him with too many stimuli to handle at once, but neither is it to cushion him to the point where he never has to deal with any fear. A puppy who is startled by something but then plucks up his courage and approaches it with positive results is developing what Jean Donaldson calls bounce-back. Multiple opportunities to overcome spookiness develop resilience and a better temperament overall; and at this age, even supposedly genetic characteristics such as social dominance are remarkably plastic. Assessing your puppy’s inherited temperament and then working hard to correct any nervousness will reap benefits for years to come.
Puppy socialisation, properly done, is an investment in your future - and your dog’s. Don’t leave it to chance.