We talked about the Socialization Period in the last article – this time we will break that period (5-16 weeks) down into more manageable segments.
There are several key period within this time that you should take advantage of during the Socialization Period. During the Curiosity Period (5-7 weeks) puppies have the lowest fear and the highest approach acceptance. This is the time to add scarier people, things, and challenges. If frightened by something at this age, the puppy will bounce back very quickly. The puppies will also start to learn bite inhibition, both with littermates and with the human family. If you are working with a breeder, they will often temperament test the puppies. This is an excellent way to help evaluate your puppy for characteristics like drive, persistence, focus, distractibility, food motivation, bounce-back from stress, willingness to work with a human, level of forgiveness, and ego strength.
When your puppy is 7-9 weeks old, he will have a fully functioning brain and is capable of learning anything – taking into account his short attention span, of course. More importantly, learning at this age is permanent, so it’s a great time to work on building good habits, like looking to humans for instructions and coming when called, and working on house manners. This is the time to teach your puppy the boundaries and rules of their new life.
The Fear Period (8-11 weeks) is another vitally important time in your puppy’s life. If frightened during this fear period, it may take weeks to return to normal. In a non-socialized puppy, anything associated with fear at this age will be a fearful stimulus throughout its life, without extensive desensitization. The puppies should be exposed to lots of positive experiences during this period.
As your puppy passes into the Environmental Awareness Period (9-12 weeks) they will start to learn the right behavior for the right time, have big improvements in motor skills, pay more attention to their humans, and are very busy learning about their new world. This is the time that has the most impact on their social skills – there needs to be a balance in the amount of time your puppy spends with humans and with dogs so that they learn the best way to interact with both “cultures”.
The Age of Independence is the period from 13-16 weeks. The puppy will begin to test dominance and leadership and “temper tantrums” are common. This is the time when attending puppy classes is essential - puppies need exposure to other puppies of other breeds, sizes, and temperaments, need to learn the difference between play and work, and need to be handled, trained, and disciplined by a variety of people.
Socialization requires creativity and is an ongoing process that should last the entire life of the dog. There are many obstacles to properly socializing puppies – their owners work outside the home all day, dogs are unwelcome in most public places, owners avoid exposure to other dogs because of vet advice and fear of disease, inexperienced owners don’t understand dog behavior, effective puppy classes and trainers are unavailable or not deemed necessary, the owners stop because either the older puppies are very outgoing or they are out of control.
There are many obstacles to socializing your puppy, but the best reason to make it a priority is that fears are caused by the dog’s experiences in life – you can set your dog up for lifetime success by making sure that the world is a positive and happy place for the dog to begin life in.
This article includes excerpts from Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development by Pat Hastings and Erin Ann Rouse, Editors. This is an excellent book to read as you prepare for your puppy and has many more details about the development of your puppy, both behaviorally and physically. The list of references included in the book at the end of Chapter 1 will also provide important additional sources of information as you help your puppy grow into best dog he can be.
For more info: If you are interested in learning more about clicker training or different ways to solve problems and communicate with your dog, there are many places you can start, including the link to www.clickertraining.com. As always, you can email me at TAMIam@training-spot.net with any questions or comments, or for help with specific issues that you are having with your dog. There are links to more resources at http://tinyurl.com/TrainingSpot .