Puppy Socialisation Period

Congratulations on your new puppy! Owning a new puppy can seem overwhelming at times, it’s difficult to know where to start, how to train, what to train etc. This is especially the case with all the conflicting information online, so I have put together some information on some of the important points which will hopefully help to simplify it all for you.

So, where do you start with your new puppy?

You may have heard of the term ‘Critical Socialisation Period’? But what exactly is it and why is it critical? During the 50’s and 60’s, innovative scientific studies were performed on puppies to establish how important it is to socialise a puppy at a young age. The conclusion was that it is incredibly vital;

Puppies who were socialised effectively before the age of 14 weeks old were shown to cope better with unfamiliar and unpleasant experiences throughout their lives. They could be handled easily, and they were able to be trained and learn quicker. Puppies that were not socialised, suffered from escalated fear responses to unfamiliar stimuli and took longer time to ‘bounce back’.

I often hear from people who have been advised to wait until their puppy has had all its vaccinations before beginning socialization. This is understandable, but unfortunately it means they miss this important socialisation period. The fact that the leading cause of death of dogs under 3 years old is euthanasia due to behaviour problems, rather than infectious diseases should be enough to convince anyone about the importance of this period.

During the socialisation period of accelerated learning and acceptance, dogs develop social attachments and species identification abilities. Basic exposure to a variety of species, environments, and situations can help puppies to become confident and familiar to their expected living environment. The learning during this period can be compared to the first few years of a child’s life, socialising does not only include interactions with other dogs, it can include:

  • Sounds/sights e.g babies crying/loud buses/doorbells/coffee grinder/lawn mower/thunder and lightning, rain and wind, airplane noises, train noises. etc
  • People (tall/short/large/small/loud/quiet) men with facial hair, with hats on, steel capped boots on, children of different ages, children playing, person with an umbrella, people of different ethnicities etc
  • Smells e.g farm smells, scents in the bush, food smells, petrol, smoke etc
  • Other animals e.g horses, cats, many dogs of different breeds, birds, ducks
  • Textures – squishy surfaces, slippery surfaces, uneven surfaces, steps, ice roads etc

I could go on, but the list is endless!

The socialisation period starts as soon as the puppies start to become aware of their surroundings at approximately 3 weeks and tapers off at approximately 12-14 weeks. Ideally if your puppy comes from a knowledgeable breeder, they should be starting early and exposing the puppies to many sights, textures, sounds and handling. Now, the rest of the socialisation period should be dedicated to your puppy understanding what YOUR world will involve.

While exposing your puppy to all these wonderful new experiences, there is one even more important point to remember. Your puppy is practically a sponge, soaking in all this information, and these experiences can be permanent! So your job as a puppy parent is to not only expose your puppy to lots of experiences, but to ensure your puppy finds these experiences enjoyable and positive, so bring your food pouch of chicken and watch out for your puppy’s response in every situation.

This socialisation period is your opportunity to learn to understand your puppy and be their advocate. When introducing your puppy to new experiences, learn to read your puppies signs of worry. If your puppy is worried, take a few steps back from the trigger, reassure puppy and give some yummy treats to pair the unpleasant experience with something positive. Be very careful to not overdo the socialisation, one new experience at a time is plenty. If groups of people swarm towards your puppy, make sure to consider how that may feel to your puppy.

Speak up for your puppy! Advocate for your puppy!

Although the socialisation period is a vital period for introducing puppies to new experiences, make sure to continue to exposure your puppy to new things, build positive experiences and respond to their body language. By doing so, you can ensure that you are doing everything in your power to help your dog to grow up to be the most confident and resilient adult that they can be.