Puppies require loads of socialization when young. Learn why it is important and how to help them in the process.
Not all dog owners are aware of the fact that in puppies there is a small window of opportunity during which socialization is crucial. This brief grace period happens to start from when the puppy is still in the breeder’s care, therefore even with its mother and litter mates, up to a few weeks after the puppy is adopted by a new owner. It is therefore both the breeder’s and the new owner’s responsibility to ensure that the puppy during this critical time is exposed to as many people, animals, and situations as possible.
Why Puppies Need to be Socialized
Puppies tend to be like sponges when they are in the process of exploring the world. They will soak up everything they learn about the world surrounding them. For this reason, it is essential to have puppies socialized when they can absorb the most from their introductions with the world. The best time, therefore, to socialize puppies is during that small window of opportunity mentioned before which is generally according to Karen L. Overall between 4 and 12 to 16 weeks.
Often, this time frame coincidentally matches the time when puppies are more vulnerable to diseases such as Parvo. Veterinarians may, therefore, advise not to expose puppies to other puppies for this time. This way the time when puppies are most receptive to stimuli is irreversibly lost. Once this grace period is left behind, therefore, all that is left for the owners of unsocialized puppies is desensitization and counter-conditioning strategies which may or may not work.
The best course of action, therefore, is to find the puppies some healthy playmates or enroll puppies to puppy classes when the puppies are around 8-9 weeks of age and have already received their first shots. Perhaps as Dr. Karen L Overall puts it goes a long way: ”The single biggest killer of pets is not an infectious disease; it is behavioral problems”.
How to Properly Socialize Puppies
For a puppy to be well socialized, however, it is essential to learn how to do it properly. Owners should expose their puppy to as many types of people, animals, noises, textures as possible but without overwhelming the puppy. Indeed, if all is done too quickly or in an invasive manner, the puppy may be prone to develop behavior problems shortly.
Socialization, therefore, must be done in a gradual and controlled manner so that the puppy learns to make positive associations without feeling overwhelmed. Owners must be able to identify signs of stress and fear from their puppy so to determine when they have pushed the puppy too far and for too long. A puppy should appear happy and pleased to make new encounters and treats given at the right time may be helpful in making these associations positive.
The socialization window of opportunity in puppies is brief, but owners must learn how to make the best out of it. However, past this time, dogs should not stop being socialized. Indeed, dogs should continue to be socialized throughout their lives. A well-socialized dog is ultimately an investment, a dog with whom it is a pleasure to live with and a dog less likely to develop behavior problems such as excessive fear or aggression.