Puppy Development Stages for Socialisation
Amy Lee, was a dog rescued from a building site where she had lived with her mother and brother until five months old. She was exposed to the men who worked there, the sounds of the various machines, but nothing else. Three years later, she’s still afraid of objects she has never seen before, or seldom sees.
The stage of development that begins at around three weeks old and ends at sixteen to twenty weeks is the best time to get your puppy used to a variety of things, people and animals. During this period, if your puppy is extensively exposed to different animals, people, smells, sights, sounds, objects and situations he stands a better chance of acting confidently around them for the rest of his life.
Your puppy’s breeder should have begun this process of exposure, but because the ideal age for a puppy to join his new home is at eight weeks, it’s your job to do most of this work. We never run the risk of exposing too much, but always run the risk of exposing too little.
Just a few words of caution, however: until your puppy is fully vaccinated, there are places he should not go because he’s more vulnerable to disease. Avoid places where there are other animals’ feces, stray dogs, food leftovers for homeless dogs, rubbish, and flies. All these are potential disease carriers. For example, your puppy may catch parvovirus – a life-threatening virus that survives in feces and places with residual feces – or distemper, a virus commonly transmitted by stray, infected dogs, that causes respiratory and neurological problems.
Avoid dog parks – enclosed areas where dogs can exercise off the lead and do other recreation activities. This is because you can’t be certain the dogs that visit such parks are healthy and vaccinated. However, you can visit a dog park with your puppy, provided you carry him on your lap at all times and avoid direct contact with other dogs. Choose a dog park that’s clean.
Many veterinarian clinics give puppy classes, also known as puppy parties, in a properly sanitised room.
This is a great way for your puppy to play with other puppies; to get used to being handled and touched in different ways and by strangers; to learn to overcome mental challenges – for example, to figure out how to retrieve a toy from a difficult place. In many of these classes, the trainer will give you a grounding in how to understand dog communication.
As for meeting adult dogs, you can ask your friends and family members to bring their dogs to visit your puppy. These dogs should be friendly, healthy, vaccinated, and free of parasites.
As far as people are concerned, they come in all shapes and sizes, each person looking and behaving differently. Introduce your puppy to as many people as possible. Encourage them to touch and play with the puppy, and physically handle him. This handling is important for the puppy so that he becomes tolerant to human touch, and won’t try to bite the vet or even you if you have to grab him in an emergency.
You may think that introducing your puppy to other dogs and people is enough, but for him to live happily with you, you need to do more. A puppy exposed to a wide array of sounds, smells, sights, places and situations develops better ‘bounce-back’. This means the ability to recover quickly from a frightening experience. It also means that when experiencing slight fear and curiosity at the same time, the puppy is more likely to show curiosity than fear.
Some examples are: car travelling, hearing loud sounds, seeing and hearing the vacuum cleaner, hearing the sound of pot lids, seeing buckets. The idea is to get your puppy used to as many different objects, places, and situations as you can. Most bad habits dogs develop at a later age are due to them missing out on these experiences as puppies!
Here are some examples of such problems:
- the dog may avoid contact with strange people and bite out of fear
- may become over-protective of his food and toys and bite if you try to take them away
- may become aggressive towards other dogs or people
- he may develop panic in unknown situations and places, may become so anxious it becomes difficult for him to learn anything
- and finally, he may become so fearful of people that he hides whenever visitors come around
When a puppy isn’t extensively exposed to unknown people, dogs, places, things and situations at the right age he tends to grow into a dog that reacts badly to the unknown. This may show itself in the form of escape, anxiety, or aggression. Such dogs are seldom happy because they are either in a constant state of fear, or feel the need to threaten.
In short, whether you choose to attend puppy classes or parties, or do the exposure training yourself, do it extensively but carefully. It is a good idea to attend classes, even if you choose to do the rest of the training yourself, because you’ll learn valuable lessons and at the same time provide your puppy with opportunities unavailable elsewhere. For example: what’s normal and abnormal when dogs play, and smells found only in vet clinics, which may scare the dog later in life if he isn’t used to them.