Dogs have a special sensitive period at the start of their lives. During this time, they learn to accept things and events around them so that they are not afraid of them later in life. In puppies especially, this small window of opportunity closes at about 12-16 weeks of age. Anything that is encountered during this time will be tolerated, and sometimes even enjoyed. After the window closes, unfamiliar people, objects and experiences are approached with caution and sometimes fear, which could ultimately lead to aggression and failure in training.
Puppy socialization involves meeting and having pleasant encounters with as many adults, children, dogs (puppies and adults) that you can find, particularly during this sensitive period of their lives and then continuing until adulthood. During this process, they will also need to get used to a wide range of events and situations.
Socialization is simple – it just has to be done! Puppies need to experience as many encounters as possible during their first year of life, particularly during the sensitive period, without being overwhelmed or pushed into unnecessary situations.
Ideally, socialization should always start with the breeder where possible. If you own a puppy that was reared in a quiet house or, worse, outside in a kennel, you will have to work hard as soon as possible to make up for lost time.
Carefully arrange for your puppy to have several new experiences every day, allowing plenty of time for rest in between. Take your puppy out and about with you as much as possible, taking care not to overwhelm it with too much and to keep it safe from infectious diseases. As your puppy gets older, it will be able to cope with longer encounters and more of them.
Make sure all encounters are enjoyable for your puppy. Give strangers tasty treats to feed your puppy and a favorite toy so they can play. If your puppy seems anxious or overwhelmed, give it more space and freedom to approach in its own time. Think ahead and try to prevent unpleasant events. Arrange for all encounters to be successful and rewarding. Remember young puppies tire easily so keep encounters short and sweet.
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