Every dog owner has heard about puppy socialization. But what does it actually means to socialize a dog? How do we accomplish that and what happens if it isn’t done?
This blog will answer those questions.
First step of the process: the puppy must learn he’s a dog. At birth, puppies don’t know they are canines. They will learn this truth by interacting with their mother and litter mates during their first weeks of life. It’s also during this period that your future best friend will learn the basics of dog language, which will let him communicate with his fellows during along the course of his life.
Point to consider: Has your dog been living with his mother and litter mates during the first 7 or 8 weeks of his life? Was he taken away from them too soon? The answer to this question will have a major influence on his life as an adult dog.
Besides learning about his own identity, starting at three weeks of age, the puppy can start to identify species that will be considered as “friendly” for the rest of his life. It is capital, at this point, that the puppy gets to meet with multiple types of humans (men, women, children, toddlers, seniors, all from various ethnic groups) as well as with all animal species that will share his daily life (cats, horses, birds, farm animals or others).
Every experiences must be supervised to make sure that the outcome is positive. It also will be important to expose the puppy to various settings (city, the outdoors, the countryside, kennels, houses etc.) to make sure the adult dog will be at ease in the environments imposed on him by human beings.
Point to consider: at this stage of development, a scary or painful experience with a new person, specie or location can cause major trauma to the budding dog, leaving psychological scarring that will be irreversible. Please take care that all new experiences are fun-filled and respect your puppies fear or doubt.
The socialization period starts around the 3rd week of age of the puppy and closes around the 16th. This timing may vary depending on breeds and individuals since some of them may see the window close down a bit before or after sixteen weeks.
It is vital to understand that this period is unique in the dog’s life and will shape, permanently, the neuronal networks in his brain. Once the period is over, the dog will have at his disposal the necessary tools to function in society or will be forever handicapped. It is impossible to redo a botched socialization.à
If your dog hasn’t been socialized and shows fear or aggression towards certain persons, places or species, it is possible to teach him to better control itself in the presence of stressful circumstances but you will never be able to replace the missing neurons in his brain. The dog will need to be managed and watched for his whole life in the problem situations. This is why socialization is the foremost thing that should take place in a puppy’s early days.
If you have more questions on socialization, need help to develop a socialization protocol for your puppy or have trouble with an under-socialized dog, please feel free to contact me!