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Now that you’ve brought that adorable bundle of fur home, what are you going to do next? Well, if you want to avoid future headaches and frustration, you should be familiar with the do’s and don’ts of puppy socialization. The experiences your puppy has during the first four months of life will dramatically influence their adult personality.
The First Weeks
The primary period of socialization in dogs is from three to twelve weeks, but sufficient handling beginning at birth, is also important for proper social development.
Studies show that stimulation and handling beginning shortly after birth and continuing through twelve weeks of age increases exploratory behaviour, learning ability, coordination, and sociability toward people. In addition, these puppies are more resistant to disease, mature faster, learn faster and are better able to handle stress.
The health and behaviour of the bitch also plays an important role in early development. Puppies from bitches with good maternal behaviour have better digestion, better resistance to disease, better weight gain, develop and mature faster, and are more stable than puppies born to bitches with poor maternal instincts.
For the first six to seven weeks, the most important aspect of normal canine development is that the dog learns to be a dog. Puppies that have been deprived of normal social relationships with other dogs may have difficulty in adjusting to their own kind. Species identification and imprinting on the mother and littermates, sensory development, investigative behaviour, social skills and den instincts emerge and develop during this period. For this reason, it is best to keep a puppy with its mother and littermates. Although socialization to other dogs is most important during the first six weeks, the puppy should also be exposed to as many new people, new environments and novel stimuli as possible.
After Seven Weeks
By seven weeks of age the puppy is least inhibited, and is best able to adapt to new experiences and a new home. Mild discipline during the socialization period actually enhances development and attachment to new people. You may think you’re being kind, but puppies raised in a permissive environment with a lack of owner dominance develop weak ties and little respect for the owner, so you’re doing your dog and your family no favours by being a pushover.
Puppies should be exposed to every possible experience while they are young and impressionable because as the dog matures, new experiences could lead to fear, anxiety and even aggression. Puppies that grow up in an environment with limited exposure to people may become fearful or aggressive when exposed to a person who is slightly different from the “norm” that the puppy has come to expect.
The puppy should also be introduced to car rides, other animals, the veterinary hospital and even taken visiting to neighbours, being certain to make each new experience as pleasant as possible with praise, patting, play or treats.
By sixteen weeks, it may be too late to begin primary socialization, but continued socialization is essential. A good way to continue socialization with a variety of people and other dogs is by attending puppy training classes or puppy parties. Behaviour consultants may be necessary for dogs with emerging problems.