Puppy Socialization is on every new pet parents mind when they bring home a new furry family member – or should be! Zazie Todd’s article excerpted here is a good reminder of why we work hard to give our puppies the best start in life!
The sensitive period for socialization is a very important time in the lives of puppies. This is when their brains are especially receptive to learning about the kind of social world they will live in as they get older.
For puppies, the sensitive period for socialization is a time when they need lots of positive experiences with all kinds of people and other animals. During this time they will also habituate to anything they might meet in later life (different sounds, surfaces, etc). If they are well socialized during the sensitive period, they are likely to develop into friendly, confident adult dogs.
In puppies, the sensitive period begins at 3 weeks and goes on until about 12 or 14 weeks. Our knowledge of this period comes from classic experiments on socialization that involved isolating puppies during this time. We don’t know exactly when the sensitive period ends, and it may end at slightly different times depending on the breed.
What Does Puppy Socialization Mean for Pet Parents
This means two things for people who get puppies. First of all, because part of the sensitive period occurs before the puppy comes to live with you, it’s important to ensure you get a puppy from a breeder or rescue where the puppy is in a home environment and getting socialization already. Puppies acquired from pet stores are more likely to have behaviour problems such as aggression, and one reason could be that they are missing those early socialization opportunities because the environment they are born into is typically not a home environment. An early socialization program for puppies means they are less likely to have behaviour problems such as body sensitivity and separation-related behaviours as adult dogs.
Second, it means you have to be prepared to continue socialization during those first few weeks the puppy is with you.
Don’t Postpone Puppy Socialization!
Sometimes people want to wait until their puppy has had all its vaccinations before beginning socialization. This is understandable, but unfortunately it means they miss this important period. Because the leading cause of death of young dogs (under 3) is euthanasia due to behaviour problems, rather than infectious diseases, the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behaviour recommends that puppies start puppy class at 7-8 weeks of age. Puppies should have one set of vaccinations before the first class, and should also be dewormed.
Choose your puppy class with care to make sure the dog trainer will use reward-based methods. Classes should include socialization opportunities with people and play with the other puppies, not just basic obedience (see: why do dogs play?). Puppy class usually lasts 6 weeks, and one study suggests that a one-off puppy party does not have as many benefits.
Author Zazie Todd – Full article The Sensitive Period for Socialization in Puppies and Kittens