The critical socialization period is between 3-12 weeks but my group puppy classes are often full of adolescent dogs. At the youngest I might have a 12 week old puppy in attendance. The BEST time for a puppy to start a class is between 8-12 weeks but it almost never happens—why is that?
Over the years, we've been told not to take our puppies anywhere until they're fully vaccinated, which happens around 12-16 weeks, however, this information has been updated! The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior offers a position statement on Puppy Socialization which you can find here: Puppy_Socialization_Position_Statement_Download_-_10-3-14.pdf (avsab.org) It states that "The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated...In general, puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming. They should be kept up to date on vaccines throughout the class"
Behavior problems are the #1 reason dogs are surrendered to shelters nationwide and often they are rooted in lack of socialization or improper socialization. So, what does that even mean?
It’s not what you think. It’s not flooding puppies with experiences, it’s simply exposure. It’s not meeting everyone and everything, it’s just seeing them, and maybe getting some snacks to create a really positive association towards that unknown thing. It’s important to be proactive. See a big, loud truck coming when you’re out on a walk? Start feeding that puppy treats as it drives by, suddenly it’s not so scary. Same goes for buses, passing kids on bikes, etc. Keep in mind that something that is frightening at 10 ft away isn’t as scary at 100 ft away so if your puppy shows signs of fear, create some distance! Giving them that security is the difference between a lifelong fear and a little healthy suspicion.
Puppies between 8-12 weeks are naturally curious about the world, so it’s essential that we exploit that. One of my most favorite places to take my puppy clients is to Lowe’s. There are so many reasons why, but some are: sliding doors, weird smells, high ceilings, tons of people, wide open spaces, tight spaces, smells of other dogs, kids, plants, birds, beeping, shopping carts, and so on! This is often where I go to teach puppies how to walk on leash with distractions and practice polite greetings. It’s a much safer place to go than say, the pet store, where people often go right after they get their new puppy and before puppy has been properly vaccinated and contagious diseases are still being incubated.
A properly screened group of puppies in a class is a wonderful opportunity to meet other puppies, learn bite inhibition during play, meets lots of different people, be introduced to novel objects (in my class we cover vet care and grooming!), etc.
The video below was recorded by me in partnership with Wag Workshops, I am happy to now share it with the Puppy Pitstop audience. It is about 16 minutes long and goes into the dos and do nots of puppy socialization, why it’s important, what to look for in a puppy class, and the pitfalls of punishment. Improper socialization can be as detrimental as lack of exposure so if you have a puppy or are considering one take notes, make your vet appt, and sign up for that puppy class!
Puppy Pitstop Training & Wellness Center is happy to offer several options for puppy training classes and socialization including Puppy Social Hours (every Saturday at 9am), Puppy Kindergarten, Puppy Elementary, and Private Training. Check out all your options at https://puppypitstop.org!