We have all come across this scenario before.
Someone you know has just brought home a puppy. Around 8 weeks old, all fluffy and cute. This person has heard before that the puppy needs to be “socialised” however, one thing after another happens which prevents this from happening – overtime at work, rainy weather, kids acting up, etc.
Next thing you know, the puppy is now a full-grown, adult dog and it is either reactive to everything or it is so scared that it cowers at the slightest touch or sound.
We work with many animal welfare groups and independent rescuers and rehomers and frequently, we hear sad stories about dogs that are returned with many such issues. Often because they were under socialised or exposed to negative experiences.
Many new puppy owners assume that there’s no need to worry about training and socialisation at such a young age. The truth is – when the puppy is older – it may just be too late.
There’s a scientific explanation. Puppies go through a critical period from 6 to 16 weeks of age that will significantly impact their behaviour for the rest of their lives. During this period, their brains are sponging up every experience and ‘storing’ it away for the future.
Whatever puppies are gradually introduced during this period, they will consider as a normal part of life when they become adults. Kids on bicycles, people carrying umbrellas, vacuum cleaners, crying babies, road sweepers, garbage trucks, etc. For a well-socialised puppy, these things are all an everyday part of the world around them.
HOWEVER… beyond 16 weeks, something happens. Anything it has not already encountered is automatically assumed to be dangerous and scary – so bicycles, umbrellas, vacuum cleaners and many common items are now scary ‘monsters’ to be barked at or cowered away from.
You may have met adult dogs who are fearful of everyday objects or unfamiliar people – often, this is the result of poor socialisation during the all-important period. It’s truly a very sad thing to see.
So, when should you start actively socialising your puppy? Right now, or as soon as possible. From the very first day your new pup comes home.
Now, there is one final consideration… vaccinations. You may have heard that your puppy should not go anywhere until it has had all the shots. Sure, you must be careful as diseases like parvovirus, distemper, and others can be very dangerous and unfortunately, they are common in many areas.
However, your puppy will not be fully vaccinated until after it’s 4 to 5 months old. If you wait until then, the window of opportunity would have passed by.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour (AVSAB) felt so strongly about this issue that they published an official statement on puppy socialisation (back in 2008) stressing that owners should be introducing their puppies to new places, people and other dogs prior to completing their vaccination shots. They strongly recommend beginning puppy kindergarten classes as early as 7 to 8 weeks of age.
So, what do you do? You must be smart about where you take your puppy before it’s fully vaccinated. We recommend avoiding places where many dogs congregate – dog runs, pet shops and public areas where many unfamiliar dogs visit.
Instead, visit friends with healthy, vaccinated pets or go for car rides. Walk your puppy around the home to meet your neighbours and invite kids playing outside to say hello, properly, of course. You can also enrol your puppy in puppy socialisation classes where each puppy is screened before attending.
Just do it before 16 weeks of age. Someday, when your puppy is a happy, well-adjusted adult, you will thank the heavens for what you have done.