A Dog’s Eye View: The ‘S’ word — more on dog socialization
April 12, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Science and research are teaching us that there is a critical window of opportunity to influence the developmental stages of puppies. This critical window starts as early as seven to 10 days old while the pups still are with their mom and littermates. That window begins to close at approximately 16 weeks of age.
I've previously written about socialization as it relates to your dog's environment. Today, we'll focus on the quality of that socialization.
Those first experiences within the litter, including interaction with the mother dog and her ability to nurture and care for her young ones, will influence the temperament of the pups. Mom's reaction to the environment is a learning tool for puppies, too. If she's fearful or stressed, her behavior will be mirrored by her pups. If her social skills and temperament are poor or undeveloped, these characteristics may very well be passed on to her offspring.
Just because the puppies are eating solid food doesn't mean they're ready to leave the comfort of the litter. Taking puppies away from the mother and littermates before eight to 10 weeks of age can spell disaster. And Colorado law prohibits taking pups away from the litter before eight weeks of age. A healthy, stable mother still is teaching her puppies the ins and outs of social skills and communication during that time. Pups removed too early from the litter miss out on crucial learning.
Now that your puppy has passed that magic eight- to 10-week mark, it's home with you and ready to be integrated into your family. If you've prepared ahead of time, you will have acquired a puppy crate, set up your first veterinarian visit, purchased a few good "stuffable" chew toys, etc. A variety of chew toys will help to direct your puppy's need to explore his environment with his mouth.
"Puppy proof" your home and decide where this little guy will eat, sleep, poop and play. Crate training and feeding in scheduled meals will go a long way toward shortening up that initial potty training phase. If you know when the food went in you can begin to predict when it will come out.
Last but not least for this critical period in his social skills development is deciding on his playmates. Take as much care in choosing the dogs he will play with as you would a young child. Rough and tumble play with an older, more robust dog can be an anxious experience for a pup. Stay watchful when your pup plays. If he's constantly trying to get away from the dog he's playing with, intervene. This is not a good match. Find a positive reinforcement puppy training and socialization class designed to build your puppy's confidence and continue your education.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.