08 Feb Socialization Period for Dogs
The pioneering work of Scott and Fuller (1965) details periods of development. The Socialization period of 8-12 weeks is critical in the formation of social relationships. According to the researchers the Socialization period is the OPTIMAL time in which to expose your pup to people and other dogs and animals.
The Juvenile period of 12-36 weeks is defined by rapid growth and the development of motor skills. Take advantage of this period to develop a behavior repertoire that will last a lifetime. The researchers describe how during these periods a “small amount of experience will produce a great effect on later behavior.”
This post will focus on puppies 8-20 weeks of age. While you will get the most overall benefit 0-20 weeks, I believe most dog professionals would agree that you still can get strong benefits up to 36 weeks. I will address 20-36 weeks in a future post but for now I will focus on 8-20.
A “critical period” is a maturational stage. This maturational stage is a window of opportunity in which certain experiences need to happen at a specific time or the window will close and the potential benefits of those experiences will be lost. During this time neural pathways are being developed, habits are being formed as well as likes and dislikes. We will be teaching the dog where to focus their energy as well as teaching the dog skills that will stay in their behavioral repertoire for life. We want to shape the dog’s character traits in order to achieve the highest adaptability potential possible. A vast majority of the dogs I treat in my behavioral practice have issues that can be traced to something that did or did not happen during the first 20 weeks of the dog’s life. When this time has passed, you cannot go back. I will give you actionable advice, that if followed, will help reduce the likelihood of any future behavior problems.
I cannot overstate how important socialization is to your new pup’s future. This is your opportunity to take advantage of the puppy’s neuroplasticity. If done correctly, you will “prime” the dog to be able to handle all sorts of novelty as an adult when the brain is not nearly as malleable.
What is socialization? Socialization is exposure to people, dogs, other kinds of animals, different environments and situations. Where can I take my pup to socialize it? Glad you asked. Before we get into that, a couple of things you need to take into consideration. During this time your pups vaccination schedule will not be complete. However, socialization during this time is far too important to keep them in a bubble. This may mean you carry the pup when in public or avoid dogs with an unknown vaccination status or locations such as the dog park that have a higher chance of exposure.
With that said, do not miss out on critical period socialization because your worried about exposing your pup. You cannot go back in time for a do-over.
Secondly, your representing dog owners in public. Please be respectful, your pup should be on a leash and have a snug fitting collar also, make sure you have something to clean up any possible accidents.
Practical application of socializing your pup
Pet stores are the most obvious place to start. Pet stores provide some great benefits. First, accommodating staff are always happy to come and greet a new pup. Other customers are of course animal friendly, ensuring your pup will have positive experiences with strangers. Depending on the store it may also give you an opportunity to expose your pup to other kinds of animals.
Big box stores can be an excellent place to socialize your pup. My personal favorites are Home Depot and Lowes. However, Bass Pro Shops, Barnes and Noble, Macys, Hobby Lobby and Tractor supply Company are just some of the larger retailers that are pet friendly. These large stores are great places to take a pup. The floors are generally concrete or tile, this allows the dog to experience surfaces that provide little traction and stability compared to carpet or grass. It is important to get your pup comfortable on many different types of surfaces. I have seen dogs that were only raised in a home with carpeting become paralyzed when the family moved to a new home with hardwood flooring. Sometimes carpet runners were the only solution. This could have been prevented with proper exposure to different surfaces as a young pup.
Other benefits these large spaces can offer is exposure to different types of lighting, sounds, shopping carts and automatic doors. The chaos and unpredictability of these environments are perfect for developing adaptability.
Other great places to take your pup are kids outdoor sporting events. Little league games in the spring and soccer games in the fall. The excited kids screaming and yelling, the sound of the ball hitting the bat and everyone cheering makes for an excellent place to socialize. If you have children or grandchildren, it is important to remember that eventually other children, the dog has not been exposed to, will come around. The pup may be great with your children but, do not assume as the dog ages it will freely except strange children. Therefore, it is important you socialize the pup with children before 20 weeks of age.
Playgrounds make an excellent place to develop adaptability. Many different tactual surfaces available. Your pup can explore, climb, jump onto and off of different objects which will develop the pup’s confidence and proprioception.
Final thoughts about socialization
I always suggest you think about how you will live with your dog.
For example, if you like to go to the beach or boating be sure to expose your pup to those things. If you want your pup to be able to go to the office with you or possibly work in a therapy setting you will want to expose your pup to similar settings early and often.
This is a great time to give a daily cursory health exam. Touch and inspect their feet, ears and mouth. These practices will set your pup up for success at the vet. If you have a dog that will need to see a professional groomer you absolutely should start getting them familiar with that experience as soon as possible.