Q: What’s the best way to socialize my new puppy?
A: Socialization is defined as positive experiences with new things (people, other animals, places, etc.). Puppies have a “socialization window” that closes at 16 weeks. Everything that happens before then—good and bad—shapes who your new puppy will become. It’s important to make sure your new puppy has lots of great experiences during this time so that he grows up to be friendly and well-adjusted.
Puppy class is a good place to start your pup’s socialization experiences. Look for a class that balances playtime with learning and focuses on calm puppy introduction rather than a wild “free-for-all,” which could encourage bullying.
Introduce your puppy to other friendly, well-socialized dogs, as well as lots of people, especially children and men. A good rule of thumb is to make sure he gets fed treats by at least 200 people by the time he’s 16 weeks old and an additional 200 people by the time he’s reached 6 months. Take him on errands with you and ask people you meet to feed him a tiny treat.
The dog park, though a good place to exercise your dog, is not meant for socialization. Avoid dog parks with young, fearful, overly excitable or aggressive dogs or any dog who is not completely vaccinated and healthy. Instead of the dog park, I socialize my dogs with friends’ pooches and by taking them to doggy daycare once a week.
Socialization is an ongoing process. Continue introducing your puppy to new things for his first year, and you’ll have a dog whom you’ll enjoy bringing everywhere with you for the next 10–15 years.
Q: My vet told me I need to start brushing my dog’s teeth. Is this really necessary? Isn’t feeding hard kibble enough?
A: Dental disease is a major concern with both dogs and cats. An astonishing 85% of pets have periodontal disease by age three, according to Dr. Laura Toddie of Heritage Pet Hospital.
“Periodontal disease will eventually lead to bone and tooth loss,” says Dr. Toddie. “Worse still, the bacteria of the mouth can seed in other areas in the body, leading to infection in the heart, liver, kidneys or anywhere the bloodstream carries them.”
How can you keep your pet’s teeth pearly white? Hard kibble helps but not much. Many pets don’t actually chew their kibble, and even those who do are left with remnants of food on their teeth. Kibble does as thorough a job cleaning your pet’s teeth as cereal does yours; it’s better than gummy bears (or canned food) but not an actual solution.
“There are many ways to slow the progression of dental disease,” says Dr. Toddie, “including tooth brushing, dental wipes, rinses and pads, dental treats and even dental diets. However, the vast majority of pets will need a regular professional cleaning by their veterinarian several times throughout their lifetime.”
If your pet’s breath is less than fresh, consider asking your vet about treatment options. Many pets actually enjoy the taste of special pet toothpaste, which comes in flavors like chicken or salmon.
Regardless of how you promote good dental health with your pet, doing so can add years to your dog or cat’s life. That’s something to smile about!