Puppy Socialization – it shouldn’t be an after thought, it should be a priority

I am IN THE FIELD so to speak, the field of puppies!

Since 2003 I have specialized in puppy and adolescent development. I realized that if owners received the right information with their new puppy, and that they were compliant to good management, kind and considerate socialization, and regular classes, they NEVER have a problem with their adult dog.

It comes down to building knowledge, stamina, persistence, and purpose with the human, and a desire to want to learn in the puppy.

And to be honest, it has absolutely NOTHING to do with sit and down and stay and come. Puppies do those behaviors all on their own, we are no geniuses there, we are simply putting words to a known position. What it is about is learning to work together, cooperation between two species. Trust and safety on both ends of the leash.

Our Teams that come through our puppy program should be proud on many levels. They fulfilled a massive time commitment, they met their puppies needs through the most critical developmental phases, they became aware of managing environments and adjusting their home space, and they learn what Team is really about.

Then they are ready to fly because their understanding is there!

Every once in awhile I get a phone call from a new puppy owner who was told to not let their puppy out of their home until 16-20 weeks of age, or a person who wants to finish all of the shots before starting class, or wants to know how often I sterilize my floors. I can talk to them until I am blue in the face, but it doesn’t mean anything really.  So I have created a RESOURCES PAGE that I add to regularly. What is lost however, and to the people who gave them the inappropriate information, is that the stages in development they are missing CANNOT BE MADE UP LATER.

So please read, and share if you like. The more we all know the better we can do. And please NOTE, the words kind and considerate are used a great deal, for the specific reason that puppies need to be handled kindly and considerately. Socialization is not synonymous with dog parks, or huge parties, or dragging them into a box pet store. So if you find that word phrase repetitious, I have done my job, and for better or worse, hopefully it sticks in your noggin. ~ Nancy


Stages of Canine Development {Scott & Fuller}

Drs. Scott and Fuller were the first to document critical periods in the development of the canine in 1953. Their efforts, recognizing the critical developmental periods, the importance of socialization, and using puppy aptitude tests in selecting puppies, have been further documented and supported by Dr. Ian Dunbar, Clarence Pfaffenbeiger, Dr. Michael Fox, Dr. Carmen Battaglia, and many others.

NOTE – I have included additional information not from Scott & Fuller. This additional information is from almost two decades of observation with my clients puppies, and raising my own litters, and will hopefully make the information a bit more digestible for breeders and family pet owners. I highly recommend taking the time to look at each link.

“Critical periods in a dog’s life begin at birth, peak between 6-8 weeks, and extend to maturity. It has been proven that environment and socialization (nature & nurture) make lasting impressions on the developing dog.” ~ Scott & Fuller 1953

1. Neonatal Period – 0-13 days – Puppies need food and warmth, they are aware of direct contact. They are not capable of regulating their body temperature or eliminating without their mothers stimulation.

Studies have shown that mildly stressing puppies in the first 5 weeks, sometimes referred to as ‘neonatal stimulation’, or ‘early neurological stimulation’, or ‘the super puppy program’. The studies found that puppies were better at handling stress, had stronger immune systems, became more outgoing, and had the ability to learn more quickly. Stress in these terms are weighing puppies everyday, placing them on a cool surface for seconds, holding each puppy on one side for  3-10 seconds and then the other, and placing fingers between each toe. READ MORE

2. Transition Period – 13-21 days – Puppies ears and eyes begin to open. They begin to hear and will respond to taste and smell.

Introducing objects into the whelping box such as; milk jugs, balls, knotted towels and stuffed animals, creates an enriched environment. Puppies should have individual time, at least a few minutes, several times a day with people. It is imperative that human voices, human touch, and human scent are present in a friendly, kind, and considerate manner. This includes a variety of, men, women, and children (supervised), all ages and sizes. READ MORE

3. Awareness Period – 21-23 days- This is an important sub-period of the Canine Socialization Period. Puppies have full use of their senses now and should not be overloaded. Radical changes in the environment must be avoided.

Continuing to add tot he enriched environment for puppies to explore in their whelping area is imperative. In addition to what is already there, now add different textures, carpet squares, vinyl squares, hardwood planks, crinkly tarps, grass, little water puddles, etc This is always supervised. Change out some of the items that have been in there for the past week or two and add new stuffed animals, larger or smaller, different size jugs, and maybe a children’s tunnel to crawl through. Safety of objects is a must.

4. Canine Socialization Period – 21-49 days- Puppies learn that they are dogs during this period, exploring life with their paws and jaws. Puppies MUST be kept with their litter mates and dam, and should not be weaned unless there is a medical reason.

Puppies removed from their dam or litter during this period may become overly noisy/barky, mouthier, more reactive, fearful, and nervous chewers. Keeping litter mates together allows them to explore the world with their paws and their jaws. They learn bite inhibition, and how to play without conflict. Household noises can be increased a little, car rides for short distances, exposure to crate training, and short periods of time out of sight/hearing of mother and litter mates. Training can begin at 5 weeks of age, only a couple of repetitions at any single session.

The 49th – 57th day is the perfect time for the puppy assessment test to be done. This is not a good time to sell/buy a puppy. WATCH VIDEO

They should remain with their litter mates and dam until 9-10 weeks of age.

5. Human Socialization Period – 60-84 days (8-12 weeks) – The puppies basic character is set by what he is taught during this time period. This will apply especially to his attitudes towards people.

Kind and considerate socialization during this period to people, places, things, events, and other appropriate dogs/puppies is imperative. Do not keep your puppy hidden.

NOTE – this does not include dog parks! Dog parks are not a safe place for puppies to explore or socialize, they are not managed, and you cannot guarantee that every adult dog will be kind to your puppy.

NOTE – this IS the time to find a qualified trainer that offers puppy socialization groups, that are managed, and offer an enriched environment. Vaccinations and socialization go hand in hand. READ MORE

6. Fear Impact Sub period – 8-10 weeks- Experiences the puppy perceives as traumatic during this period are generalized and affect him his whole life. Avoid any physical or psychological trauma, what your puppy perceives as trauma, not you!

Puppies should not be shipped during this period. Necessary visits to the veterinarian should be made fun, no elective surgeries until after 12 weeks.

7. Seniority Classification Period – 12-16 weeks- Known as the ‘age of the cutting’ teeth and apron strings. The puppy is trying to figure out who is in charge (general term in the ‘world’ scope). This by no means is in reference to a ‘power struggle’, but rather who is who.

This is the ‘critical sensitive period’. It is a finite developmental phase, and if missed, cannot be made up later on. By 16 weeks of age the puppy’s emotional makeup is fully developed and cemented for life. From the time your puppy comes home until 16 weeks, give or take a week, you should be giving your puppy exposure to people, places, things, events, and other well socialized dogs/puppies in a managed environment. This means every single day. You stack the cards in your favor if you are dedicated to kind and considerate exposure during this developmental period. Kind and considerate exposure lends itself to a more flexible, resilient, and smooth puppy, behaviorally and emotionally.

Qualified puppy classes, puppy socialization play groups, and puppy play dates are all very important during this stage. This should be a priority, not an after thought. If at some point you feel that your puppy is your life and everything you are doing is for your puppy, than you are doing a great job. READ MORE

NOTE – If you choose to not socialize during this period, you will create a puppy that is referred to as ‘static’. This means that the puppy is most likely fine, happy, and puppy like, and maturing into adolescents, UNTIL they are ‘over faced’ or scared by a person, place, thing, event, or other dog/puppy. The puppy who missed this developmental phase will not rebound, or be resilient, or have what is referred to as ‘bounce’. They didn’t gain the information that was necessary during the ‘critical sensitive period’. Re-training through desensitization and counter conditioning are possible during the dogs adult life, but there is never a guarantee, and efficacy is low.

8. Flight Instinct Period – 4-8 months- During this time period puppies will test their ‘wings’. During this period keep your puppy on a leash.

If they learn how to run away from you, and are successful, then you will have even more difficult adolescence ahead of you. READ MORE

9. Second Fear Impact Period – 6-14 months – Known as the ‘teenage flakiness period’. This is tied to sexual maturity. You will see fear of new situations and you should handle this with the utmost patience.

Please do not force your dog, be patient and be involved in kind and considerate socialization. This is not the time to ‘make’ your young dog go into a store that frightens them, or ‘make’ a stranger pet them that scares them. Dogs can only learn if they feel safe, so choose locations wisely, choose stress free environments, and maintain play dates with known friends.

10. Young Adulthood – 18-24 months – Many dogs show a rise in reactivity/push during this period. They may become protective and territorial, and teenage flakiness may recur.

NOTE – If a puppy in the ‘critical sensitive’ stage had a bad or traumatic experience with a person, place, thing, event, or other dog/puppy, you will see the ‘side effects’ during this developmental stage. On a spectrum of fearful and retreating to reactive and offensive. A little or a lot.

During this period, socialization and continued teaching are keys to having a dog you enjoy living with. All dogs enjoy variety, and attending a creative class, that builds handler skills, as well as new skills for a young adult dog are helpful. WATCH VIDEO

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Sergio says:

    Great and complete article. Here in South America we don´t have puppy´s classes.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Puppy classes are so awesome for so many reasons. The biggest one I have seen is that you are less likely to have problems as your dog ages because you and your puppy both have had an awesome ‘kindergarten’ education. Here is a clip on some of our puppy play after class, we have all temperament types, and all breeds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU51S5FgIdU

  2. Leyla says:

    Hi Nancy!
    I’m so glad I found your blog when I got my puppy Sally because I DID have those words “kind and considerate” just floating around in my head and after re-reading this article I remembered it was from your blog… “So if you find that word phrase repetitious, I have done my job, and for better or worse, hopefully it sticks in your noggin.” … well, it did! That was so very helpful as a mantra! Now I am trying to do “kind and purposeful” – a bit of a challenge for me but I’m working on it! Thank you so much for everything. It’s helped me a ridiculous amount to be able to learn from you. Not just confined to dog training. Thank you : )

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