McNeil Labradors

Early Puppy Socialization 

Research goes well beyond the scope of this article.  Of importance, is an understanding of how crucial early socialization is to the proper psychological development of a puppy.  Research has distinguished the importance of relationships that exists between genetics, puppy experiences, and adult behavior.  The future of a puppy is very dependent upon what you as new parents do with this puppy through several very important stages of life, after the puppy leaves mom, litter mates, and the breeder. 

Traditionally speaking, the psychological and social development of a dog can be divided into four clearly identifiable stages or sensitive periods beginning with the neonatal period on the way to a full adult personality.  Each phase of development is equally important. 

Neonatal or newborn period takes place from 1 to 2 weeks of age.  This is a time of relative quiet.  The puppy during this time is deaf and blind to the outside world relying only on tactile (sense of touch) and olfactory (sense of smell) cues.  Most of the puppy’s time is spent eating and sleeping.  Motor ability is very limited at this time.  Sleep consumes about 90 percent of time outside eating because the brain is immature.  Reticular formation is not developed enough at this stage to enable extended periods of wakefulness.  Urination and defecation occur with stimulation from their mother, a time of total dependency upon their mother.  Human handling seems to be of great benefit, both from a behavioral and physiological standpoint.  Research proves that early handling reveals a more rapid rate of development, i.e. motor skills and coordination develops at an earlier stage, eyes open sooner, and puppies seem to be less apprehensive when approached by strangers or strange objects.  I’ve confirmed this with my own litters. 

Although fairly short, a lot takes place in the transitional period from 10 to 14 days.  The puppy’s eyes open and hearing develops.  Urination and defecation begins to occur spontaneously, and they also begin to walk.  Early play behavior and barking can be observed during this period.  They are still dependent upon their mother. 

The socialization period from 3 to10 or 12 weeks of age has the greatest impact on puppies and their relationship with their littermates and people.  This is a “critical” period of socialization because so much of what occurs or doesn’t occur during this period of time largely impacts future behavior.  This is the time when puppies learn about their mother’s discipline, their littermates, and relationships with humans.  An even balance between these learning experiences is important relative to the genetic influences and temperament that is inherited.  This time is important for learning appropriate social interaction with their mother, littermates, other dogs, and humans.  Puppies learn to be insightful and perceptive as well as moving independently from place to place.  Perception and loco motor skills continue to develop as needed in adulthood.  Puppy social skills develop during this time – chasing and chewing on littermates.  Personalities begin to develop whether alpha or submissive.  Puppies learn to inhibit their biting through chewing on their littermates, often suffering the consequences. 

Important social skills are learned as a result of littermate interaction, useful in adulthood.  Removed from the litter early, around 4 to 5 weeks of age, puppies often experience difficulty around other dogs when they grow into adulthood, often being frightened by other dogs, or responding aggressively.  Of equal importance is the puppy’s exposure to humans.  Puppies not exposed to human contact and socialization are often fearful and difficult to train.  Not only is human contact important, the quality and variety of human contact is critical.  Variety is a significant factor in that puppies need exposure to children, adults and elderly individuals.  Early exposure helps eliminate fear reactions in adulthood.  Puppies raised with other animals, i.e. cats or birds learn to adjust and accept them, developing a similar bond, and will not chase them. 

The socialization period that occurs between 8 and 10 weeks is referred to as the “fear, avoidance, or heightened sensitivity period".  This seems to be the optimal time for puppy placement and bonding with new owners.  It is important that new puppy owners be aware of this period and use it to their advantage with a lot of patience and understanding, moving toward a strong bond.  Puppies during this period are extremely sensitive to poor handling, and stressful, or traumatic experiences.

The juvenile period begins about 12 weeks of age to sexual maturity.  This period of time extends from six months of age to a year of age or more, depending upon the individual puppy.  During this time, the puppy becomes increasingly independent and existing behavior patterns begin to develop with more refinement as the puppy continues to grow and develop.  Behavioral changes occur and the ensuing months can be very challenging.  The puppy who was your shadow last week all of a sudden has a new found independence, turning into a juvenile delinquent, a pest, and continually demanding your attention.  He begins to ignore you when called, making your job of getting his attention extra difficult.  The teething period also begins at 4 to 6 months when they chew on everything to include people.  The biggest mistake made by many owners is postponing obedience training.  When training is postponed, the puppy begins to train himself often making your job much more difficult requiring sterner methods of training. 

Patience is the key.  Be able to anticipate what your puppy needs and what he’s thinking.  If he doesn’t have a chance to think about exhibiting unacceptable behavior, he can’t do it!  You have to be quicker and smarter than he is……… 

McNeil Labradors
Statesville, NC 28677

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Last Updated:  January 29, 2008

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Page Created By:  Margo Carter, McNeil Labradors

  Thought For The Day:

"We give dogs time we can spare, space we can
spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It's
the best deal man has ever made." - M. Facklam