Importance of Early Socialization

Recently I’ve had a couple of 15 or 16 week old pups come to my Puppy Kindergarten classes — the class is open to pups from 10 wks to 16 wks. In both instances the owners had “kept them home” until they received their second round of shots.

Unfortunately puppies have a developmental window that is just about closed at 16 weeks and what I’m finding is that these puppies are scared of EVERYTHING! While there may be a genetic factor, and it’s possible they are going through a fear period, there is no doubt in my mind that the lack of exposure to a variety of stimuli has severely retarded their social and emotional development.

So what do you do when you have a 35 lb. lab or doberman puppy that’s scared of the 6 lb. cockapoo, not to mention the other puppies? Here’s what I’ve done, that has brought some success:

First of all do NOT over face the puppy. Don’t let the owner coddle them either. Instead the owner should be encouraged to engage the puppy with treats or toys while observing the rest of the class from a little bit of a distance. After the class has been in session for about 10 minutes I do a first round of introductions. I have 2 puppies meet at a cone in the middle of the room (handlers using a food lure at the puppy’s nose to get them to walk to the cone). Once at the cone I say “let them meet” at which time the puppies (on leash – which must be kept loose) get to sniff one another for 3 seconds. Then I ask the owners to return to their chairs, again with food at their puppy’s nose. I select the quietest puppy to meet the shy one. Often the first meeting with the shy puppy is a non-meeting, but we try.

Then we continue on with class. All the while all the puppies are scoping out their neighbors. For the next round of puppy play I divide the group by size & play style, if needed. As I do this I gate off the scared puppy and let him be “off leash” in his safe haven, so he can watch the others play. Based on how that scared puppy is acting I will determine whether it’s appropriate to introduce him to one of his classmates. I find limiting the exposure to a single, quiet puppy is helpful. I will have the scared puppy off leash & the classmate on leash, so that I can collect the classmate up quickly if needed.

The socialization process at this point is slow, but once the scared puppy gains confidence with his classmates the changes in class behavior for that puppy can be significant. However, I’m not at all certain that the now more confident puppy will ever have the level of confidence or resilience in new situations that he might have, had he been exposed to more things (in a positive way) earlier in his life.

The lesson to be learned — get young puppies (by 10 weeks) out into puppy safe environments where they can begin to experience the world.

Have fun 🙂

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4 Comments on “Importance of Early Socialization”

  1. Fluffy Tufts says:

    One of mine was rescued by me at nearly 6 months old. Prior to coming to live at my house, he had never been outside and never been to the vet. He was not socialised AT ALL! 😦
    We have worked so hard with him, but he will never be as confident as my other two. He is still very anxious and nervous in unfamiliar situations.

  2. bdorancpdt says:

    That is so sad. He’s one lucky boy to have ended up with you & his nice siblings! Does he do any agility training? If a dog isn’t frightened of the equipment I’ve found it can help build confidence, but I’m sure you’re aware of that 🙂

  3. Fluffy Tufts says:

    He has done some agility, but he was terrified of the high equipment and distressed by the amount of people and dogs around. I am making a little set of jumps so we can play ‘agility’ at the beach and the park, as he did enjoy jumping! He has a Thundershirt too which helps a lot. 🙂


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