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Diamonds in the Ruff

Early Socialization


All puppies require early and rich socialization with people, kids, other animals to

become confident social adults, but HOW when they haven't had all of their shots yet?


A veterinarian's view on puppy socialization

Robert K Anderson DVM article



“The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life…

For this reason, the AVSAB believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive

such socialization before they are fully vaccinated… While puppies’ immune systems are still

developing during these early months… appropriate care makes the risk of infection relatively

small compared to the chance of death from a behavior problem.”

- The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior *




Much study has been done on the critical socialization periods and professionals debate on how to protect the puppy from illness while meeting his need for rich social experiences. It's a reality that puppies are at risk of picking up viruses in the world but "bubble boy" puppies who stay cloistered at home until they are "all done with their shots" can also be at a greater risk of becoming anti-social dogs who can't cope with life.


    Read more:

    Sensory, Emotional and Social Development of the Young Dog, Dr. Joël Dehasse, DVM (Belgium)


    Article on "The Importance of Puppy Socialization" from the AKC.


     "The Neuroscience of Puppy Development.  Start Before You Get Him Home."



At a recent seminar, Ian Dunbar DVM, PhD noted that the 'most' critical socialization period starts long before the pup leaves the litter: 3 weeks to 12 weeks - so socialization needs to start with the breeder and continue from there. The books say 7 weeks because that's about the earliest a puppy should leave its litter. Dr. Dunbar's quote is "100 new people by the age of 3 months." That's a lot of people!


Beyond 16 weeks you've missed laying the groundwork for your puppy's social life.

At 5 months they begin to recognize that there are strangers in the world and are about to head into a second fear imprint period in early adolescence - the most difficult time developmentally to socialize. If your veterinarian advises you to wait to begin puppy classes, you will have to find other creative ways to meet your puppy's social needs over the next few critical months.


At the seminar both Ian Dunbar & Jennifer Messer DVM recommended an accelerated vaccination schedule: 3 vaccinations by 3 months and begin puppy classes in a class with other vaccinated puppies at 12 weeks. Prior to being able to attend class, they advised that puppy owners not walk their pups in public parks or around the neighborhood where stray/unvaccinated dogs travel until after the 4th vaccine, but to meet the need for socialization by inviting lots of kind, gentle people of all ages to their home and carry the puppy everywhere: the video store to rent videos, the fringes of a summer soft ball game, the grocery store to sit outside with the puppy on your lap and watch people and carts and kids go by.


Some suggestions:

Wherever there are sights and sounds and smells and humans of a wide variety of ages of while he is still small enough to be carried easily. Places that don't sell food or pets are good choices - video stores, garden centers, office supply stores, yard sales - just don't put your puppy down on the ground where the germs are and don't let him sniff noses with other animals. You want him to meet lots of gentle kids, especially if you don't have any of your own. Many veterinarians advise owners of 'high risk for social issues' breeds (pitbulls, chows, shar peis, heelers, filas, etc) to start classes as early as 10 weeks. Of course, owners must fully realize they are weighing social benefits over health risk.


Nature or Nurture? Both!

Boris Cyrulnik - "the World of each animal is built around the double constraint of genetics and development".




... It starts at before his eyes and ears open, while your puppy is still at the breeders and continues through 18 months ... although the most critical period is from 3 weeks to 12 weeks.


An interesting article and study by Carmen L. Battaglia, PhD.


"The purpose of Early Neural Stimulation is to stimulate the puppies' neurological system by applying mild stress to young pups in a very controlled and limited way. The benefits include:


· Improved cardiovascular performance

· Stronger heart beats

· Stronger adrenal glands

· More tolerance to stress

· Greater resistance to disease


Battaglia also notes that pups exposed to ENS "mature at faster rates and perform better in certain problem-solving tests than non-stimulated mates."


Video of Early Neural stimulation.



Before their eyes even open the breeder can provide new sensations:

New positions, smells, textures, temperatures start your puppy off being better able to handle new things in the future.




















Household sounds, music, TV ...

Pups raised in a kitchen experience many normal house activities – cabinets slamming, vacuuming, dishwasher and washer/dryer noises, pots clanging, phones ringing, dogs barking, etc.



As they become more mobile -





















New surfaces: slippery wood floors ...
























rough concrete ...  smooth tile ...




















New sensations ...cold, water ... prickly grass


















Your job is to provide daily enrichment opportunities.

Pups should have the opportunity to explore crackly sounds ...




















Have things to get into ...























and run through ...






















and get on top of and under ...


Jump and climb - slippery, slanted, up and down. Increases balance and body awareness.

New textures ... depth perception ... problem solving ...























Don't wean too early!



Puppies need to remain with mom and littermates until at least the 49th day. Puppies who leave the litter too early may have problems with bite inhibition and have social issues with other dogs later.




Allow mom to discipline her puppies. Long after they need her for nourishment, they need her motherly example. Being told they can't have what they want any time they want it is an important lesson which will carry over to their future human family. When she lies down in the middle of them with a bone and won't share or walks away when they want to nurse, they are learning important lessons. They should meet gentle adult dogs who will set limits ... sometimes being the under dog ... and sometimes big brother.



Frustrations & challenges are good things.


Cooperative games, play fighting, chase and be chased, mouthing and biting - this is how they learn bite inhibition, how to use and read body language and all important dispute resolution.  They should stay with the litter at least until the 49th day and have continued positive social interactions with safe dogs and puppies in puppy classes, safe and appropriate dog friends, and dog day care.


They should meet other species.

Whatever you want your dog to be comfortable with as an adult, he should meet prior to 3 months of age.


100 new people by the age of 12 weeks.

Men, women, tall, short, large, small, light skinned, dark skinned, hats, canes, strangers!


Young people,

and not so young people ...


Puppies who grow up in the same yard with the same people and only ride in the car to go to the veterinary clinic for vaccinations will never become the dogs they could be! Make the time to socialize your puppy every day!



Who, What, Where and When to Socialize Your Puppy


Suggested reading:

The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey

Before and After You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar

Positive Puppy Training Works by Joel Walton, CPDT

Good Owners, Great Dogs by Brian Kilcommons

Great video: Puppy Love by Carolyn Clark & Karen Pryor


All of the above are available through Dogwise:




This handout courtesy of © CAROL A. BYRNES "DIAMONDS IN THE RUFF"

Training for Dogs & Their People (509) 325-7833

ditr_training @ -

The photos of puppies in this article were of an abandoned litter of mixed breed foater puppies that we fostered for SpokAnimal C.A.R.E. - all found homes, including mom!

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