The socialisation period
This is the period when pups are "plastic" – they can cope well with new experiences and bounce back when spooked. It’s also the time that pups are most curious and sociable. They are keen to explore and through exploration they build up a bank of experiences to help them cope with the unexpected, so that they can maintain calm and not react with fear.
Breeders and owners can make use of this window of opportunity to help create a dog with excellent life skills, who doesn’t need to use aggression to cope with the world. The socialisation period stretches from 4 weeks to around 14 weeks of age. Pups denied exposure to a rich tapestry of experience before the age of 14 weeks, will react with fear when faced with anything unfamiliar – resorting to fleeing or putting on an aggressive display. As so much of the socialisation time is spent with the breeder, they have the first and most powerful influence on the puppy.
What can breeders do?
- Breed with only the most balanced dogs – nervousness is often inherited
- Handle the pups from day one
- Keep pups in a stimulating environment with a variety of toys, sounds and surfaces
- Encourage a variety of carefully supervised visitors from 4 weeks of age including children
- Allow interaction with other well socialised adult dogs in the home
- Give individual attention to each pup as well as short periods away from siblings
- Home pups at 8 weeks
What can new puppy owners do?
- Only get a puppy when you have time to commit properly as for a few weeks, your life needs to revolve around your puppy’s needs.
- Make sure the whole family is included and “on the same page”
- Take your puppy to puppy class when they are 8 to 10 weeks. Do not wait for all vaccinations as you will miss the critical opportunity for socialising.
- Arrange for numerous visitors to your home to interact with your new pup.
- Take your pup on lots of safe outings – e.g. car rides, dog friendly on-lead only parks, plant nurseries, vet shops and coffee shops. Avoid the beach or off-lead dog parks where your pup may have a bad experience.
- Visit the vet often when your pup doesn’t need treatment– befriend the staff and pop your pup on the scale accompanied by yummy treats.
- Arrange play dates with other pups or friendly, calm adult dogs – always supervise interactions and don’t allow your pup to be bullied.
Socialisation isn’t something that you can just regard as completed once your pup is 5 or 6 months old. Your growing pup needs to be given regular opportunities to interact with people, other dogs and the world to maintain their social skills as they mature.