October is Adopt-A-Dog Month. This month I will feature articles solely on dogs, beginning with the importance of puppy socialization.

Socialization with the breeder and other humans is important in the puppy's development because, as with nutrition and general care, positive contributions made at critical times during growth will last throughout the dog's entire life, according to Dr. John Fox in the Spring 1990 edition of Today's Breeder. Breeders contribute right from the first day by handling the puppies, helping them nurse, and providing a healthy environment. This interaction should continue and expand as the puppies mature.Dr. Fox states: "Puppies need a lot of human contact. They need to know what is and isn't expected of them. Don't let puppies do things, just because they're cute, that you don't want adult dogs doing. Puppies who chew and nip become adult dogs that chew and nip."

Puppies exposed very early to proper grooming, housebreaking and elemental commands are more likely to accept and thrive under advanced training for showing, for specific jobs or as well behaved pets. But that doesn't mean older dogs cannot be trained. With older dogs, time, patience and consistency are valuable training tools.

Young puppies go through many changes in the first 12 months of life, says Herbert Morrison III in Understanding Your Puppy's Behavior. "You can help make this an easier time for both you and your puppy by being aware of these changes and understanding what is normal puppy behavior."

Socialization period - This occurs at 4-12 weeks. At this time the puppy is just beginning to learn what the world is all about and it's fist impressions will be lasting impressions. The dog should be allowed to play with a cross-section of humans in a controlled environment, such as puppy socialization classes offered through several different dog-training programs. The puppy will learn that interacting with people is pleasant and fun. Rough play or frightening experiences should be avoided!

If the puppy learns early that people are fun to be with, it will always enjoy and be comfortable with them. The puppy should also learn to socialize with other dogs. Encourage play with both adult dogs and other puppies.

Place learning - This occurs at 3-6 months. During this period your puppy learns to be comfortable and self-confident in new and different situations. The puppy should be taken for car rides to places other than the veterinarian. Take it to parks, shopping centers, playgrounds, etc. If not permitted experiences during this time, the puppy probably will not adjust. It will not be relaxed away from home. Should the dog seem to be shy or afraid, ignore it and praise only the outgoing behavior. Never push. Let the puppy set its own pace.

Juvenile period - This occurs at 6-12 months. During this time your puppy will go through typical teenage behavior. The dog will reach sexual maturity. Females will have their first season and males will begin lifting their legs. This is the appropriate time to have th animal spayed or neutered.