What is the socialization phase and what does the dog have to learn? For puppies there are new and exciting things to experience every day. How we can help them during this time and prepare them optimally for their later life, you can read here.
When is the socialization phase?
Every puppy goes through different imprinting phases in which he should learn certain things. If you miss these phases, you can no longer make up for certain learning successes.
One of the most important formative phases in the life of a puppy is the socialization phase, which lasts until the 12th week.
This means that within this time he has to get to know all the things that will play a role in his life: During this time the dog learns to be “socially competent”.
Why is this so important?
The puppy brain is enormously receptive in the first weeks of life. The more it gets to know in the period up to 12 weeks, the more information it can access later and the more nerve tracts are formed in the brain.
It is therefore not the most important thing that the puppy learns signals like “sit” or “place”. A smart puppy learns these things in a very short time. It is much more important to use the imprinting phases correctly so that the little puppy becomes a sovereign young dog.
So what should your puppy learn?
It is important that the puppy gets to know different looking dogs as early as possible. He has to learn to read the facial expressions of solid colored dogs as well as those of multi colored animals. A dog with or without a tail also communicates differently.
The puppy must learn that a Sighthound is not afraid, but that the “drawn-in” tail is his natural posture. He must learn to understand that a French Bulldog does not growl, but that the puffing sounds are its normal breathing. Every breed has its own peculiarities and the puppy must become aware of this.
Which dogs are suitable for socialization?
Make sure that you take a good look at the dogs you are confronting your puppy with. There are enough adult dogs that have not been socialized in an ideal way, for example, they are rude, pushy or threatening. Every puppy should be spared such experiences.
Puppies learn by imitation. If he makes the experience several times that a “normal” greeting among dogs is done with a threatening gesture, he will quickly take it over and the whole training was rather counterproductive. Therefore, it is important to avoid contact with insecure, fearful or even aggressive conspecifics. Also being overrun by larger dogs can have negative consequences for a sensitive puppy.
What else needs to be learned during this time?
- Friendly animal species, which often fall into the prey scheme of the dog, must be learned before the 12th week. These include cats, birds, rabbits, etc., but also other roommates, such as horses and all those animals with which your puppy should later get along peacefully. This is especially important if the dog is to live or work with these animals in a household later (e.g. herding dog – sheep).
- The puppy should see the veterinarian, weigh, measure fever, groom, comb, bathe and everything that will be done with him later.
- Wearing a muzzle must be practiced. It does not have to be worn perfectly yet, but the puppy should be familiar with it.
- Household noises: vacuum cleaner, washing machine, cooking, etc.
- Surfaces: Running on different surfaces is not a matter of course. The more surfaces he gets to know, the safer he will walk later.
- Everyday situations, such as: a busy street, driving with public transportation, being alone, etc.
- It is especially important that the puppy is confronted with children. Children are often particularly strange to dogs because they are unpredictable. An adult is predictable, while children are completely unpredictable, run all over the place and often squeal. The dog first has to learn how to handle this.
If he gets to know all this during the socialization phase and does not have any negative experiences in between, none of these situations will stress him later, but will be a matter of course for the puppy.
If the puppy has got to know each element individually, he can combine his experiences: If he knows men, wheelchairs and crutches, he will not be afraid of a man with crutches or a man in a wheelchair.
Not taking things for granted
We must not forget that everything in the world is new for the little ball of fur. Things that we take for granted can scare the little dog to death: The vacuum cleaner seems like a monster for a little puppy, even a broom can be scary, and the lawn mower also makes terrifying noises.
Your little dog doesn’t have to be able to do everything perfectly right away, he should just get to know things and make positive connections.
Always take it easy
The puppy has to learn peace and steadyness and that not everything is evolving around him. He has to learn to lay quietly under the table in a restaurant and when we meet a friend on the street and talk to her, that he also has to be alone and has to be quiet.
We often forget to reward the puppy for desired behavior: He lies so well-behaved under the table and sleeps while we have guests. Also this behavior should be rewarded. How else should the puppy know that we want exactly that from him?
Most of the time we tend to accept desired behavior (because he shows it by himself anyway), while we criticize unwanted behavior and scold the puppy. But a puppy prefers negative attention to no attention at all, so he will show the unwanted behavior more often.
So have understanding and show patience in dealing with the dogs.
Training and rest periods
Important for the whole training is: Never overstrain the puppy, offer him sufficient protection and let him make all experiences without pressure and stress. Every puppy has its own pace, which we have to take into account. Always pay attention to his needs.
Socialization does not mean dragging the puppy around from morning to night, but rather slowly and carefully introducing him to these experiences. So don’t show him too much at once, but one by one and take a day off in between, so that the little one can process the new impressions.
Because a puppy needs at least 20-22 in 24 hours of sleep, which is a must. Sometimes the small dog must be “forced” to sleep. Because often they are like overexcited children: Actually already unbelievably overtired, but at the same time he could miss something of the exciting world. Here the puppy does not even think about going to sleep by itself. So show him his retreat and don’t pay any attention to him, so that he learns that it is not about him anymore.
You see, there is not much time for training, because the most important thing is to eat, sleep and play with other puppies. Keep the training sessions short (5-10min.), because they are very exhausting for the puppy.
How does the puppy learn?
The learning behavior of a puppy is strongly determined by its own activity. Adolescent dogs are keen observers who are able to imitate what they see within certain limits. This enables them to adopt behavioral patterns without having to gain the experience necessary for the puppy to learn.
The effect of mood transmission plays a big role here as well, the individual wants to do the same as the other dogs. This imitation learning or also Tradieren called, applies to positive, as well as negative behaviors. For example, if the courage dog reacts to a car horn with barking, her puppies will also tend to adopt this undesirable behavior.
Therefore, you should choose also the friends of the puppy with caution. An insecure dog, that regularly goes for a walk with the puppy, can “learn” the small one fast that he must fear everything and everyone. Self-confident friends are important, from whom the puppy can learn positive things.
The puppy learns especially much when playing with other puppies. Here it is important that the puppies have about the same age (or the same physical condition and degree of maturity). The constant change of roles has numerous learning effects. Besides the ability to assert oneself, the ability to lose must also be learned. This is especially important for reducing fear-motivated aggression in later behavior. During play, the little one also learns and practices bite inhibition.
What happens if he does not learn all this?
Often puppies are extremely curious until 16 weeks. If one forgets to reward the puppy for desired behavior during this time, the behavior usually changes rapidly after the 16th week (here the stress tolerance drops to zero). All things that were taken for granted (but not rewarded) until now are suddenly scary.
If you can socialize the puppy well and if the puppy is able to make all these experiences, a young dog with good mental resilience and a high character stability develops. The socialization is therefore necessary, because nobody wants to have a stressed young dog that yelps at everything that moves or panics when he only hears the slightest noise.
Many of the things the puppy learns already at the breeder, foster home, etc. As soon as the little dog moves in with you, you are responsible for the further optimal development. What you should pay attention to when the puppy moves in can you find here: The puppy is here!
The socialization phase is a very important time in the life of a puppy. He has to get to know many things positively in order to be confident later on. There are some things to consider. Take care not to overstrain your puppy and give him enough rest. Little by little he will become a sovereign young dog.