Why Puppy Socialization is So Critical

Early puppy socialization determines a puppy’s future success as a pet.  In fact, everything dog breeders do is so impactful on the lifelong prospects of our puppies it’s almost ridiculous!

And that’s because the most important chunk of a puppy’s early childhood rests with the breeder.

During that time they learn most of what they need to know about who and what to trust, and who or what to fear.

Given the right start, he is set up to be a confident, curious, happy dog that sees humans as part of his pack and is not phased by the world he lives in.

But given the wrong start, sets him up to be aloof with humans, and afraid of the world.

These are typical symptoms of a dog under-socialized during puppyhood:

  • Fearful of novel experiences (most experiences will seem novel to a poorly socialized dog)
  • Difficult to handle. A dog that’s poorly socialized to humans will be more difficult to train.  A dog that arcs up every time it sees a bicycle, child or person with a funny hat is not fun.
  • Noise sensitive, and likely to bark and over-react to every day sounds.
  • Anxious around other dogs and people. Which means the owner can’t have a relaxed social experience with their dog in tow.
  • Afraid of exploring, afraid of new situations, afraid of life.

Which dog would you rather own?

And there’s the kicker:  A dog that’s scared of life due to a less-than-optimal childhood is so much more tempting to discard if life throws his owner a curve ball.  Because he’s not fun to own, the owner-commitment level is naturally low.

Even committed owners may be forced to give up such a dog. 

The issue is that while small interventions during the critical socialization period have a massive long-term impact, it takes heroic interventions later in life to have even a small positive effect.

We all want to keep dogs out of shelters.  Right?

Ensuring they have a great early childhood is the key.  Happy dogs that are a joy to their owners do not EVER get abandoned.

So how do we do that?

Simple!  Support great breeders.  Put them on a pedestal!  They have an important job to do.  The world is depending on them for the wonderful dogs that bring so many benefits to their owners.

There is nowhere else great dogs reliably come from. 

Any other source is hit and miss.

If you’re a breeder I hope you fully realize what tremendous responsibility sits on your slender shoulders!

Here is a chart showing the critical socialization phase of puppies:

critical socialisation period puppies

For breeders there’s a few things to notice about the critical socialization period of puppies:

  1. The critical socialization period is done and dusted by the time it is 16 weeks old.

As breeders we have the lion’s share of impact on how our puppies turn out.  But how our owners handle their rapidly disappearing opportunity to get it right depends on us too!

Owners are best placed to give their puppies the 1:1 socialization and introduction to THEIR world they need to become the best pets they can be.  But they are in a bit of a bind.

Veterinarians will often be advising them to keep their puppy away from the world until fully immunised.  For the old vaccination protocol most vets are still using, that means shots at 6, 10 and 14 weeks.  Only starting socialization after 14 weeks it’s too little too late to be relied upon.

And though attending a puppy preschool in the interim is certainly recommended, it’s nowhere near enough.

So as breeders we need to be advising our owners how to safely and competently socialize their pups between 9 and 16 weeks of age.

  1. Awesome Breeders do their best to adequately socialize puppies during the rearing phase.

Luckily this is pretty easy to achieve:  Just family rear your babies so they are exposed daily to the sights, sounds and smells of normal human households, handle them each for just a few minutes a day, and actively avoid subjecting them to fearful situations.

Kennel rearing has no place in responsible dog breeding.

  1. There are two peak fear sensitivity periods, one around 5 weeks of age and one around 8 ½ weeks of age.

The implications are that we should be avoiding fearful situations at these times.  This is easy enough to do at the 5-week age in the safe environs of the breeder.  But many of us let our puppies go to their new owners at 8 weeks of age.

Being removed from the safety of their litter pack is an extremely stressful event for all puppies.

Studies have shown that it is better for the breeder to hang onto puppies until they are 60 days old (8 weeks plus 4 days) before adoption.  Puppies kept over for just 4 extra days have a measurable reduction in the chance of later development of adverse behaviors such as separation anxiety.

Are you a dog breeder who is interested in how to do a great job of socializing your puppies?  Or perhaps you’re already doing all the right things and wonder how you can be recognised and rewarded by the market with the great prices you deserve.  Then register for the FREE Dog Breeder Masterclass here.

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  1. John Jess said:

    Thank you for the incredible article you have wrote detailing the importance of early socialization. As a reputable doodle breeder raising Goldendoodle and Bernedoodle puppies, I can only attest to the very things that you have stated in this article are absolutely true!
    Too many breeders underestimate the importance of making sure to properly socialize their puppies and the devastating effects it can have on there puppies when they go to their forever homes. Thank you again for writing this important article and making more dog breeders aware of the importance of early socialization!

    October 26, 2020
  2. Eve Willmott said:

    Picked up 3 feral rescue puppies at 4-5 weeks old and they seem to be socialising well. My husband stayed overnight with them in a bedroom area for their quarantine period (2.5 weeks) and since then they have been in the family home with other dogs, people and general household things. Picking them up before the 5+ week socialisation phase and keeping them company with handling, play and household and garden experience has meant they are currently fearless and friendly. (mum wasnt to be found so we needed to take them at that age). Obviously this is not an ideal puppy rearing experience but i do feel our little feral pups are likely to be better adjusted than their poor puppy farmed cousins. Have to support the home breeder for super pups and we are trying to mimic that best practice as closely as we can with our little ferals.

    October 17, 2020
  3. Delaine Sylvester said:

    This is a great article. I breed my pug 2 xs a year. I sleep on the couch next to the whelping area for 6 weeks . I hold and cuddle each puppy several times a day When they have their eyes open I let them move around I let them out in my living room .they are so cute playing with each other I introduce toys and watch them play not sharing the toy LOL

    August 13, 2020

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