Socialisation is the learning process during which an individual learns to accept close proximity to various species as well as its own species. Socialisation is the process whereby appropriate social behaviour is learnt.
There are six recognised periods of development in dogs. These periods are prenatal, neonatal, transitional, socialisation, juvenile and adult.
"....attention must be paid to developmental events during the critical period of socialisation (one to eight weeks and then eight to sixteen weeks). What happens during this time is crucial for making a good dog. Many people don't realise how much time that takes." (Coppinger, 2001)
After the age of 5 weeks puppies become more fearful about making new contacts and social experiences. The fearful tendency appears to peak at around 12 weeks.
Prior to this, puppies quickly recover from negative experiences because they learn a great deal from the reactions and reassurance of their mother and littermates.
It is important to ensure puppies have lots of different experiences during the sensitive period as they will recover and not develop a fear of that stimulus. What happens during the critical or sensitive period of socialisation can have a large impact on later behaviour. However, if they are not exposed to a particular frightening stimulus until after the sensitive period they could go on to develop fear of that particular noise or stimulus. Fireworks is an example of a stimulus that a puppy may not be exposed to during its sensitive period.
Puppies need to spend time with other puppies and adult dogs to learn appropriate social interactions in the canine world. Play behaviour allows a puppy to practice and learn motor and perceptual skills needed as an adult. This does not mean letting puppies play in a wild or uncontrolled manner. We want our dogs to enjoy spending time with us and to know that being around us is the best thing ever. If we allow puppies to play constantly with other dogs, we may have problems with recalling them. Another frequent problem is the puppies and dogs that rush up to other dogs in order to play. Some dogs are not comfortable around other dogs and we should always call our dogs to us if we see dogs on lead. They are on lead for a reason.
Puppies that are removed from the litter early (4-5 weeks) often can have difficulties around other dogs when they are adults. They may be fearful or respond aggressively. Therefore, it is important to keep puppies with their litter and/or other dogs until they are at least 6-8 weeks old.
From birth to 14 weeks
0 - 21 days: Someone should spend a few minutes per session with very young puppies, increasing it to at least 10 minutes as they get older. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes each per puppy per day by the time they are ready to go to new homes. Three or four sessions per day are better than one long one.
3 - 5 weeks: Handling should continue every day. Puppies will start playing with littermates, learning to function within a group and going to the toilet on their own. It is important to ensure the puppies are handled as above.
6 - 8 weeks: This is the optimum period for socialisation.
8 - 14 weeks: Puppies will start to explore their environment
By meeting people of all ages, wearing different style clothing etc will help the puppy not be fearful of meeting new people. Meeting adults and children should be the most important item on the socialisation programme. The more people the puppy meets and plays with, the more friendly and sociable the dog will become.
However, puppies should not be passed from person to person. They should be allowed to make their own approach.
It is critical to expose puppies to as many different experiences and stimuli as possible.
*Coppinger, R & L.(2001). A new understanding of Canine Origin, Behaviour and Evolution. University of Chicago Press