Puppy Socialization: When is the right time to train and socialize your puppy? Critical Puppy Socialization period from 3 weeks to 3 months.

By Will Bangura, Dog Behaviorist

There is a lot of confusion as to when is the best time to start puppy socialization. When is the right time to train and socialize your puppy?

puppy socialization class phoenix

 FROM 3 WEEKS TO 3 MONTHS

When should puppy socialization begin?  The critical period for puppy socialization or dog socialization starts at 3 weeks of age and goes until 12 weeks of age or 3months.

Unfortunately, most dog and puppy owners don’t begin to socialize their puppy or dog until it is already too late.  As a result, many puppies grow up to have fears, phobias, skittishness and possible reactivity and aggression.  in addition, the problem of socializing a puppy or dog too late is, in some respects, perpetuated by well meaning veterinarians who are lacking in knowledge and education when it come to puppy socialization, and animal behavior in general. Remember, veterinarians go to school for medicine, not behavior. However, many well intentioned veterinarians give out bad advice and puppy owners assume because they are a veterinarian that what they say is correct. 

WHAT DO REGULAR VETERINARIANS HAVE TO SAY?

Veterinarians have been telling dog and puppy owners to keep their puppies and dogs inside until they have all of their vaccinations. In addition, the veterinarians put fear in the minds of puppy owners that their puppy may get Parvo or distemper and that this can kill your puppy.  As a result, most puppies never get the critical socialization skills that are needed for the development of a puppy that is stable and confident. Socializing a puppy at the right age is critical so they can handle all kinds of stimulation and experiences in the environment. 

Typically, the age at which a puppy has all of their shots and vaccinations is at about 16 weeks of age.  As a result, this is when most puppy owners begin to expose their puppies to the outside world. Puppies need to be exposed to sights, sounds, smells, strange dogs and strange people. However, this is 30 days, or a month too late.  Consequently, most puppies never get the critical socialization and exposure they need to develop a healthy psyche and a stable temperament. 

VETERINARY BEHAVIORISTS POSITION ON PUPPY SOCIALIZATION

In the field of veterinary medicine is the filed of veterinary behavior.  As a result, there are veterinarians that are specialists in animal behavior and have completed additional schooling.  They have done internships, and conducted research in animal behavior.  The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has published a position statement on puppy socialization.  As a result, the position they take is that early puppy socialization during the critical socialization period of 3 week to 3 months outweighs the risk of Parvo or distemper.  In addition, more dogs are euthanized as a result of poor early puppy socialization than die from Parvo or distemper. 

EXPOSURE VERSUS SOCIALIZING

At my dog training company in Phoenix Arizona we distinguish between socialization and exposure. In addition to the critical socialization period, there is a critical fear period that puppies go through from 8 to 12 weeks of age. Consequently, it is important to make sure your puppy does not experience anything traumatic during the critical fear stage.  As a result, we teach our puppy owners to get their puppies exposed to as much as possible during the 3 week to 3 month period.  However, we are very cautious about bringing puppies during the critical fear stage of 8 to 12 weeks around other puppies or dogs.  In addition we make sure that any introductions between puppies and other animals will be a positive experience and not one that is potentially traumatic. 

In our training program, we want to expose puppies to everything.  However, we don’t necessarily believe that every puppy needs to be around every other puppy playing, especially if the other puppy is mean or aggressive or even fearful.  As a result, we avoid any possible trauma, but get the puppy used to being around other puppies and dogs.  We don’t want the puppies to be fearful or aggressive around other puppies or dogs, but there is no strong emphasis that says your puppy has to play with every other puppy or dog.  In addition we don’t advocate that every person or child has to pet and handle your puppy either.  Consequently, we advocate exposure in close proximity of a lot of puppies, dogs, people, kids, and other animals, but some pet handling by people or children can scare a puppy. In addition, there can be scary experiences if your puppy ends up playing with the wrong dog or puppy that does not have a stable temperament. 

EARLY EXPOSURE IS WHAT IS NEEDED FOR GOOD PUPPY SOCIALIZATION

In conclusion, good puppy socialization is really about getting your puppy used to and exposed to as much as possible between 3 weeks of age and 3 months. Consequently, those puppies that don’t get exposed to as much as possible are at high risk of developing fearfulness, skittishness, and potentially aggression based in fear when they are not exposed to everything before they have all of their shots and vaccinations.

Be safe when exposing your puppy to everything.  Before your puppy has had all of its vaccinations you should avoid areas were other dogs frequent to pee and poop.  This is the biggest risk of getting sick or being exposed to Parvo or distemper.  Being very careful to insure that your puppy has only calm positive exposure to people, kids, dogs and other stimuli. 

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