Socializing puppies has traditionally been considered the responsibility of the new owner. We instruct new owners to take the puppy to classes and make sure they are exposed to a variety of people and situations.
But recent research shows that encouraging a stable temperament can start even before puppies are born. Breeders can do a lot to make sure their puppies have a great start at being more adaptable to a wide variety of situations they will encounter in life.
In the fourth part of this series, we look at the 4-to-6-week period of a puppy’s life.
At 4 weeks, puppies are getting much more active and starting to get serious about having fun. They want to explore the whelping box (maybe they can even climb out now), so this is when you should expand their area to include play, potty, and eating areas. Weaning has begun, and the puppies are now eating solid food.
Now is the time to move your puppies into the family room or kitchen. They need to hear different human voices and other common household sounds, such as vacuum cleaners, kitchen appliances, things dropping, television, etc. If you don’t have children or multiple people in your household, get friends to visit the puppies — children and men, especially. Make sure they remove outdoor shoes and wash their hands before handling the puppies.
Provide varied surfaces for the puppies to walk on. It’s easy to make a few “baby” agility obstacles. Coat a short board (2-to-3 feet) with non-skid deck paint. Later, you can put a small dowel under it to give it a little bit of wobble. A piece of artificial turf, a section of PVC pipe for them to walk over, and a short but large-diameter piece of PVC pipe for them to crawl through are all good ideas. Home improvement stores have a good selection of matting, available by the foot, that resembles show ring matting and grooming table surfaces. All puppies, even those not destined for show or dog sport homes, will gain confidence to try new things with these fun toys.
Another idea is to hang items from a frame made of PVC. They can be sections of foam tubes (the kind designed for children’s pool toys), old kitchen spoons, strings of jangly bells, bottle brushes, crinkly strips of tarp — use your imagination! Just be sure that everything is puppy-safe. Hang them so that they brush against the puppies’ bodies as they walk through in search of small treats that you can scatter underneath to encourage this activity.
Find a shallow container with enough area for puppies to walk around in and fill it with empty plastic water bottles. These make a wonderful racket when puppies walk through them. Again, seed this with small, but delicious treats to encourage the puppies to wade in.
The puppies’ individual personalities are apparent now. Some may be bossy, others meeker. They all need to learn to deal with different dog personalities, but don’t allow a bully to pick on less assertive pups. Getting bullied too much at an early age can cause shyness problems that will be hard to overcome. Study their personalities carefully, so that you can match them to just the right homes.
Some other things to add to their experiences:
- More physical handling, including light grooming with a soft brush.
- Keep handling their feet and toes.
- Provide them with appropriate toys for chewing.
- Visitors! People of different races, men, children, older people.
It won’t be long before your puppies are ready to go to their new homes. The more things they experience and people they meet, the more prepared they will be for their new lives as happy companions.