When you first bring home a new puppy that’s only a couple of weeks old, you’ll likely find it quite fluffy and adorable.
You may be aware that it is essential to socialize your pup, and then you make plans to do so as soon as you have some free time. This can include plans of hiring a local trainer, taking your new puppy for relaxing walks, and more. However, these plans are usually put on the back burner for later.
Soon you start to make excuses such as waiting for the weather to get a bit warmer or when your work stops being so hectic, so you have more free time. Then it turns to waiting for when your children return from school or waiting until the puppy gets his first shots to ensure he is well protected. After all, you think that there is still lots of time for socializing at a later date.
Unfortunately, you’re pretty wrong.
Sadly, the vast majority of puppy owners usually think they don’t need to hurry when it comes to training, socializing, or fixing behavior problems when the pup is so young. I’ve chatted with lots of puppy owners about socializing their pup, taking them to puppy kindergarten and more, every time a new one comes to our vet clinic to get their new dog checked out. Usually, these owners say that there is no need to rush into those things yet and how the puppy is doing just fine. Others indicate that they’re simply waiting until the puppy grows a bit older.
However, the point where the pup is older would be much too late, and there is a scientific reason behind this. Puppies need to be socialized between the ages of 6 to 16 weeks since this is a critical time for them and will greatly determine how they behave for most of their lives. In this particular age range, puppies are similar to sponges, and they take in everything they are experiencing and keep it in the backs of their brains.
According to the different breeds, some experts indicate this period ends at 12 weeks as opposed to 16 weeks. Each species has its particular socialization period, and it is a whole other topic that has to be covered in another post. However, a reasonable estimation is up to 16 weeks.
The things that the puppy experiences and observes during this period are what they will think of as everyday lives. So, if they see things such as cars, they’ll think cars are just fine. If they see lots of kids running around or on bikes, they’ll also assume that’s fine. Once they are exposed to a wide range of experiences, they will understand that they are a regular part of the world.
However, after 16 weeks have passed, there is something else that occurs. At this point, new experiences would not be as quickly accepted with open paws as before and would now be viewed suspiciously. Once the pup hasn’t previously seen or interacted with it, it would be determined as being scary, harmful, or dangerous. This includes simple things such as lawnmowers, bikes, canes, and baby strollers. Even though these are typical everyday objects, they would now be seen as terrifying, which they need to run away from or bark at. I’m sure you’ve already met many adult dogs who are afraid of specific objects or strangers. This is usually due to being improperly socialized within this crucial window.
Bad things don’ even need to happen because once a dog isn’t exposed to it during this period, they will likely be unable to deal with it when they become an adult. This will create a dog that can’t deal with a typical everyday life. Sadly, in my practice, this is very common and something I see daily.
Exactly why are dogs like this? When you look at evolution, dogs in the wild only have a short period to figure out new things to survive. Most wild animals that are similar to dogs, such as foxes, wolves, coyotes, feral dogs, etc., understand that most new things are likely to cause them to harm or even kill them, and they should be treated accordingly.
As a result of this, there is a concise expiration date for the dog brain and how long it can accept new experiences. When you look at adult coyotes or wolves, those who readily take new things and engage with them, such as cars, other predators, etc., usually die quickly. So, even though domestic dogs don’t live such wild lives and are typically well-protected, they still have this behavior wired into their brains from their wild ancestors. As a result, no matter how much you beg or cajole your dog that a random plastic bag isn’t scary, to your dog, they need to escape or defend against the bag, no matter what, as it is simply a matter of survival.
Now, you may be asking, when is the best time to start socializing your pup? The answer to that is directly or as soon as you can. It would help if you started from the first day you get your new puppy since you have minimal time to socialize them successfully.
You may be wondering about vaccination since you’ve likely been told that your pup shouldn’t go places before he has gotten all of his shots.
You must be careful since many deadly diseases are wary of distemper, parvo, etc. However, remember that your pup will only become fully vaccinated at 4 to 5 months old. If you wait until this time has elapsed, then your socialization window would have ended.
The AVSAM or the American Veterinary Society Of Animal Behavior has a lot to say on this particular problem, and they made a statement on it in 2008 where they indicated that new puppy parents need to socialize their puppies with other people, dogs, and things before they’ve been fully vaccinated. They also suggest that it is best to start puppy kindergarten classes when they are between 7 or 8 weeks old.
This means that you need to be intelligent about what you expose your puppy to before they’re entirely vaccinated. It would help if you didn’t carry them to high-traffic places, such as pet stores, dog parks, etc. Instead, it would help if you took them to your friends that have pets that are fully vaccinated and well cared for. It would be best to take them on car rides with you when you do your regular errands, go through drive-thrus, etc. Ensure that you allow your pup to meet the neighbors and even say hi to the neighborhood kids.
Strive to socialize your pup as much as you can before they reach 16 weeks old. This will ensure that they become fully functional and adjusted adult dogs.