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The Importance of Proper Puppy Socialization

Updated: May 26, 2022

Puppy play time!

Puppy socialization is such an important window of time you want to make sure should be fun and a positive experience for your pup to help them learn to be a confident, well adjusted dog in any environment. When a puppy isn't socialized properly, they often grow up to be nervous, fearful, anxious, or reactive to certain people, animals, places, or other stimuli. Sadly this is one of the top reasons a trainer is called to the home for an evaluation. After taking a closer look into the situation and having a discussion with the family we are often able to determine that the dog is suffering from fear-related behaviors which often stems from incomplete puppy socialization. I am sure you have met a dog who is afraid of men, doesn’t like loud noises, doesn’t like other dogs…All of these examples could very well have developed from inadequate socialization.

Puppies experience an extremely important time early in life called the socialization or critical period which begins at 3 weeks and lasts until 12-16 weeks depending on the breed. During this time puppies experience several different sensitive periods where developmental changes in the brain occur which prepare them for different experiences and exposures. For example, puppies respond best to leashes and harnesses between 5-9 weeks and puppies learn a

Lilly loving her harness!

preference for substrate and location during potty time at 8.5 weeks. There are also behavioral patterns that develop within these sensitive periods that prime the puppy for their experiences, but also may have consequences if the exposure is missed during this period. Between the estimated ages of 10-20 weeks puppies are ready to learn how to explore new environments, play rougher, and to control their bite strength. If these exposures are missed, the puppy may develop a fear to anything new, may display inappropriate responses with play and may never learn to control its bite strength which can be a serious problem. Now we do have to consider that the puppy’s genes will also have an affect of their behavior since a puppy is a product of their genes and environment. While socialization is important for all puppies, it is even more important for those whose parents were fearful. A significant amount of work during the socialization period should be put in to ensure that the puppy becomes a well-adapted, friendly member of society.

If you or someone you know has a puppy or is thinking about getting a puppy, it is extremely important that you equip yourself with a puppy socialization checklist. Here is the link to a very thorough one.

The key to socialization is to not only use the checklist to make sure that your puppy is encountering many different stimuli but to make sure that these associations are completely positive! That means take treats with you. Pairing new stimuli with food will help your puppy learn positive associations to the stimuli. If your puppy won’t eat around certain stimuli, then he is too nervous/stressed and should be backed away from the stimuli to a distance that doesn’t make the puppy nervous and should be fed there. Don’t ever force your puppy into a situation if they are showing that they are nervous or fearful. Also, it is important to know that when the vet says the puppy needs to be protected until their puppy vaccines are finished, this means that puppies shouldn’t go to places like the dog park but should still be experiencing puppy play dates assuming that both puppies are on time within their vaccination schedule. If you aren’t able to set up puppy play dates then a puppy group class may be the right decision for you.

If your puppy or adult dog is displaying fear, anxieties, nervousness to certain stimuli it is very important that you contact a qualified positive based trainer to help you with a desensitization/counter-conditioning plan to help change the way your dog views the stimuli. No dog should have to live in fear as we have many tools/techniques to help reduce fear and anxiety in a multitude of situations.

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