Socializing puppies has traditionally been considered the responsibility of the new owner. We instruct them to take the puppy to classes and make sure they are exposed to a variety of people and situations.
But more 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 on being more adaptable to all the situations they will encounter in life.
In the third part of this series, we look at the very important third week of a puppy’s life.
Puppies start functioning and interacting at 3 weeks as they have sight, hearing and some mobility at this age. Three weeks heralds the start of the crucial socialization period.
Drs. John Scott and John Fuller were the first to identify critical periods in the development of the canine in 1953. A critical period is a specific time in the maturation process when a small amount of experience will produce a great effect on later behavior. There is a window of opportunity in which certain experiences need to happen at a specific time, or the window will close and the potential benefits of those experiences will be lost.
Scott and Fuller labeled the period of time from 21 to 49 days as the Canine Socialization Period. Starting at about 3 weeks, puppies learn that they are dogs and start exploring life. It is important that puppies be kept primarily with their mother and siblings during this time so they can learn important life lessons from both, such as how to play appropriately and bite inhibition.
But this is also a good time to start removing the puppies for short periods of time for individual attention and positive interactions with humans.
It also is very important that puppies be introduced to new things during this stage. Create an interesting and enriching environment in the puppy living quarters. This should include different types and sizes of toys and other safe objects. Try to change out toys every day.
Include different surfaces for them to walk upon. Ideas include tarps, carpet squares with different types of carpeting, wood planks, and vinyl squares. Think about how many adults dogs are afraid to walk on certain surfaces and how providing these experiences at a crucial learning time could prevent this.
As a breeder, there are many other things you can do to enhance your puppies’ lives at 3 weeks. Bull Terrier Breeder & Dog Trainer Jane Killion’s video Puppy Culture covers many ways that you can enhance your puppies’ learning experiences at this stage, including:
Human Socialization – Around 3 weeks is when puppies start reacting to humans and seeking attention. This is a good time to introduce new humans into the picture. The puppy’s immunity from mom is still strong and there is little danger of introducing disease as long as you take precautions, including having visitors remove their shoes and wash their hands. Do not allow visits from people who have a sick dog at home or if they are coming directly from a dog show, dog park or other place with lots of strange dogs, they need to change their clothes.
Startle the Puppies – Puppies have little fear at 3 to 4 weeks so this is the optimum time to startle them with many new sounds/sights to develop their startle/recovery response. Slam doors, start up a vacuum cleaner near the whelping box, drop dog dishes and/or a stack of books, etc. Surprises are very good occurrences at this age.
Create a Potty Area – Three weeks is also about the time in the puppies’ life when mom stops her bathroom duties as this age is usually around the weaning time. Create a potty area for the puppies, which will aid in the housebreaking process and keep their living area cleaner. A low cardboard box with litter found in pet supply stores can work.
For more valuable information on these ideas and socializing your litters, click here.