Puppies! Everybody loves them! Well, when they’re not eating your favorite pair of shoes, anyways. Many people know it’s important to socialize a puppy, but oftentimes people don’t know the specifics about what this means. Let’s look at the details of how to set your puppy up for success.
The renowned Dr. Ian Dunbar has said that a puppy should meet 100 people by the time it is 12 weeks of age. The basic premise of socialization is that a puppy should experience many new people, places, and things in order to grow into a well-adjusted adult dog. However, not all experiences are created equal. It’s actually very important for your puppy to have POSITIVE experiences during socialization. Negative experiences can be detrimental depending on what window of development your puppy is in.
To understand this better, we need to delve deeper into the stages of dog development. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus more on the stages that occur after you’ve brought your puppy home. These stages are approximate and can vary from breed to breed and from dog to dog. You may also notice that some of these stages can overlap.
Description and Implications
|0-7 weeks||Neonatal, Transitional, Awareness, and Canine Socialization Periods||During this time, a puppy should still be with her mother. She is developing increasing awareness of the outside world and learning about canine behavior from her siblings. Puppies in these stages benefit from short, positive exposures to novel objects. Towards the end of this stage, they can begin very short positive reinforcement training sessions.|
|7-12 weeks||Human Socialization Period||Puppies that are approximately 49 days to 8 weeks old should be fully weaned and ready to go home to their human family. Puppies can start forming deep bonds with humans during this time, and it is a great time to enroll your puppy in puppy classes after they have received their first round of shots. This is the time frame where it is ideal for your puppy to have many new positive experiences (see Dr. Sophia Yin’s checklist for socialization here). However, it is important that these experiences are POSITIVE, because puppies often experience a fear stage in this window (see below).|
|8-11 weeks||Fear Period 1||Somewhere in this window, puppies often go through a developmental stage where they are very susceptible to frightening events. Traumatic or frightening events that happen during this developmental window can impact the puppy for the rest of her life.|
|10-16 weeks||Seniority Period||A puppy in this stage becomes more independent and can test the boundaries and expectations in your household. This is a great time to have clear expectations and continue to work on positive training.|
|4-8 months||Flight Period||Puppies in this stage are more independent and more likely to take off on you! Teething and mouthing also are common in this stage. Be sure to keep your pup on a leash for her safety.|
|6-14 months||Fear Period 2 and Adolescence||Many pups go through a second fear period in this time window. Continue with positive experiences and positive training.|
|1-4 years||Maturity||Depending on breed, it can take a pup 1-4 years to reach maturity. Adult dogs continue to be shaped by their experiences and training. You can teach an old dog new tricks!|
For more detailed information on developmental stages, please visit the HSPCA website.
A SUMMARY OF SETTING YOUR PUPPY UP FOR SUCCESS
-Get your puppy out there. Once upon a time, veterinarians used to recommend keeping puppies at home out of public spaces until all of their puppy vaccines were finished to reduce the possibility of illness. However, most behaviorists and vets now recognize that some really important socialization windows happen while puppies are still getting their vaccinations. The rewards of socializing a puppy in these time periods with fellow puppies in a safe, positive training class outweigh the potential risks of behavior issues that can arise from a dog that is not well socialized. Therefore, getting your puppy enrolled in a puppy class with fellow puppies who have had their first round of vaccinations is ideal.
-Do your homework. Use Dr. Sophia Yin’s checklist and try to check off several experiences each day.
-Make sure your puppy gets the right stuff. Remember: it’s not just about experiences…it’s about POSITIVE experiences. Positive involves treats, praise, and assessing your pup’s body language to make sure she is enjoying the experience. If your puppy is showing signs of fear or anxiety, it’s best to take a few steps back and take things more slowly with more encouragement.
-Dog parks usually aren’t best for pups. Many owners think that a dog park will be a great place to socialize their puppy! This is not necessarily the case. A puppy class is much more ideal. First of all, a puppy class is safer from a health perspective. You can count on the environment to be sanitized and the other puppies to have had their first round of vaccines. At a dog park, you don’t know the vaccination status of other dogs, and due to the high volume of dogs at dog parks, they can be a haven for illnesses. There’s a reason why most dog parks have rules that puppies must be at least 4-6 months of age to attend the park.
Secondly, a puppy class is more likely to guarantee your pup a POSITIVE experience when the class is supervised by an experienced trainer or behaviorist. A trainer can monitor puppy play, monitor puppy body language, and make sure everyone is having a safe and fun experience. Unfortunately, there are not behaviorists monitoring the dog park. Sometimes people bring dogs to the park that may be pushy, overwhelming, or even aggressive towards other dogs…in other words, not a positive experience for your pup. Having negative experiences with other dogs, particularly during a fear stage, can actually be counterproductive to your puppy’s socialization and make her more prone to having problems interacting with normal dogs as an adult.
–Hire some help! If you don’t have time to socialize your puppy, consider hiring someone to help. Wiggles and Woofs offers puppy visits that work on basic positive training and provide potty breaks, as well as socialization field trips that offer positive socialization experiences. If your puppy is exhibiting concerning behaviors that you are having trouble resolving, don’t hesitate to hire a positive methods-based trainer. Many times it is easier to modify a behavior in a puppy than in an adult dog.
WHAT ABOUT ADOPTING ADULTS?
There are many wonderful adult dogs needing homes out there! Sometimes people are hesitant to adopt an adult dog because they think that an adult dog is “fixed” in its ways. I sometimes hear people say, “I want to get a puppy, because that way I can control how he turns out!” While it’s true that socializing a puppy well greatly increases your chances of having a fantastic adult dog, there are no guarantees. Behavior is a combination of both environmental exposures (like socialization) and genetics.
Not all dogs in shelter settings are “damaged” or “difficult” dogs. There are many fantastic “easy” dogs that are already socialized and house trained in shelters waiting for a new home. And, I would argue, even the dogs that need some extra training and socialization after you bring them home are still wonderful companions. While adults are less malleable than puppies that are still forming their identity, adult dogs can still learn new behaviors and improve with socialization.
Thanks for reading!
Thank you to pexels.com for the adorable puppy photos!
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is not intended to provide professional dog training advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote understanding and knowledge of various pet-related topics.