Socialization is an unending process and must start very early in a puppy’s life. The puppy must have ongoing exposure to all of life’s experiences. The goal of socialization is to help the dog learn to act appropriately around people, other animals, and in the many public and private social situations of human life. A properly socialized puppy is well adjusted and makes a good life long companion.
The 3 Critical Periods of Puppy Development
There are 3 well defined critical periods in the development of a dog from puppy to adult that need special attention in the work of socialization.
Stage 1 of Puppy Development
The first of these periods is from the age of 7 to 12 weeks. This time frame is generally viewed as the most critical for puppy socialization. A dog’s inappropriate or unacceptable behaviors and attitudes resulting from experiences during this period are often the most difficult to correct.
Stage 2 & 3 of Development
The other two periods range from around 8 to 10 months and finally the last is around 18 months of age. In recognizing that these periods are when experiences will have a significant impact on the dog, owners and trainers must plan and set up activities and exposures to ensure positive results.
As with any type of dog training, the factors of distance, duration, degree of difficulty and distraction level must be integrated into the learning experience. We would not want to expose a puppy to heavy traffic with loud noises the first time we took the puppy outside. Initially, we would take the puppy out, in a quiet area for a limited amount of time and then work up to integrating more “distracters”.
Introduce Puppy To The World - Slowly
The owner needs to expose a new puppy to as many sounds, sights, smells, people, animals and locations as possible, beginning as soon as the puppy arrives in his new home. This includes taking the dog to the vet, to the pet store, to the school yard (when children are playing), in the car, in an elevator, on a busy street, outside when the garbage truck and buses go by, near bicycles and skateboards, and around people of all ages, sex and ethnic backgrounds. The more new and positive things a puppy sees and experiences in these critical weeks, the better.
Make sure that each of the following events is pleasant and non-threatening. If your puppy's first experience with something is painful and frightening, you will be defeating your purpose. In fact, you will be creating a phobia that may often last a lifetime. It's better to go too slow and assure your puppy is not frightened or injured than to rush and force your pup to meet new things and people too soon.
Consider Puppy Kindergarten
Puppy kindergarten is a great tool to include in your socialization process. This class will help your puppy with its puppy to puppy social skills. It also introduces the puppy to a great variety of people and sounds. You want to make sure that these classes are well supervised by a qualified dog trainer in a safe environment.