Social Muttworking- Understanding Canine Social Development
By Renea Dahms
Socialization is an important management tool for puppies (and for some adult dogs).
Your dog’s world view is shaped by 16 weeks of age, as a general rule. What happens in those first 16 weeks of life become the experiences your dog expects, there is little room for more. Many times dogs assumed to have been abused or mistreated were simply under (or not) socialized.
As soon as your new puppy comes home, a systematic program for social development experiences should be developed and implemented. Puppies should not leave their mother and littermates prior to 8 weeks of age. [This is another important social development stage.]
Great care should be taken when introducing your puppy to new and novel experiences. He should be allowed to deal with them on his own terms. Forcing a puppy into a situation he is unsure of can backfire; causing a negative life view of the situation.
Between 8 to 10 weeks of age puppies go through what is considered the first fear period. It is extremely important to avoid any situation that may cause fear in your puppy at this time, as its effects can be far reaching and difficult to reverse.
It is of great importance that your new puppy gets out and about prior to 16 weeks of age and is allowed to experience a variety of situations and places. Field trips to the veterinarian, the groomer, the park, any place your puppy will visit as an adult. Be sure to introduce people of all sizes, shapes and ages; include special things like glasses, hats, long hair, short hair, facial hair and more.
When introducing your puppy to children, special care should be taken as children can unintentionally scare or harm your puppy. Always take great care in supervising interactions between puppies (and all dogs) and children.
Christmas is coming quickly, and while pets are not presents, there will still be a puppy under someone’s tree. Be sure to enroll your new puppy in a properly run and supervised puppy class that stresses socialization and offers novel experiences for your puppy. Be sure the class divides puppies if needed by play style and or size to avoid creating a bad experience. Puppies can begin puppy classes at 8 weeks of age because the risk of infection is relatively low in comparison to the risk of relinquishment later due to behavior problems.
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to get your new puppy out and into the world before the age of 16 weeks, as sociability outweighs fear. It will greatly decrease future behavior issues, and lessen the chances your puppy will have huge fear responses to things. A well socialized (and trained) dog is a joy to own.
Renea L. Dahms CBST, RMT is the Behavior, Training & Canine Conditioning Coach at Pawsitively Unleashed!