Dog’s Eye View: Socialization: Everybody knows about that, Part 1
January 22, 2015
I'm so glad that dog owners are thinking about the importance of socializing their new puppy or adult dog. Here's some specific information about socialization.
The "social" part of the word refers to behavior towards other puppies and dogs and people in the environment. Puppies begin this process when they're still with their littermates and mother.
The most receptive time for socialization is referred to as the "sensitive" period. This is between 4 and 12 weeks of age. This means that it's easier and natural for puppies to accept new things in their environment including other kinds of animals as well as new objects such as floor surfaces and home furnishings.
Sounds and smells are more easily accepted — kitchen sounds, vacuum cleaners and talking or TV sounds are included in this category. Becoming accustomed to being handled by thoughtful adults and gentle well-behaved children along with trying different interactions with littermates is happening, as well.
Especially between 6 to 8 weeks of age, the puppies should start meeting people who are not members of the immediate family. We're broadening their experience in every sense.
Interestingly, each puppy may be experiencing these things at a slightly different time during the sensitive period. In other words, they're not little machines that automatically will respond to stimuli on the same day or time. There's a flow of experience and response.
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All of the new experiences with positive outcomes rest with the breeder of the puppies. The mother dog and littermates will give instant feedback on biting too hard or playing too rough. I like to see breeders take the time to raise a litter inside of their home where it's so natural and easy for the puppies to become accustomed to what their new home might be like.
I encourage people to think carefully about what it takes to bring up a well-socialized litter of puppies. Done correctly, it's quite labor intensive but a lot of fun, as well. I'm always thinking of the future of each puppy and how easily it will be able to settle into a new permanent home. The most carefully socialized puppies have the best chance of making it long term with a new family.
You can see that the span of time the sensitive period encompasses may run into the age when many puppies go to their new homes. Sadly, I hear that a common reason for tearing a puppy away from its littermates is, "they're all eating solid food.” As you can see, this doesn't even begin to cover the myriad of needs for puppies during this critical time.
At 12 weeks of age, the sensitive socialization period is coming to a close. This is where your work as the new owner has begun. Socialization really never ends. How you accomplish this ongoing responsibility is somewhat different now. You have at least two years (and beyond) of careful training and exposure ahead of you. It's up to you to keep your new pup's life heading in the right direction. Where we go from here will be in the next article.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training and has more than 25 years of experience. She can be reached at http://www.totalteamworktraining.com.