We want to raise resilient puppies who have the best chance of success in their new homes. We want them to be confident and ready for the human world they are going to live in. That means puppy socialisation starts with you!
From the moment puppies are born there are learning opportunities that can shape their behaviour, and their lives longer term.
There is a huge disconnect between the breeding world and the world of training and behaviour. The stigma attached to breeding is real and sadly this leads to a lack of information being exchanged between breeders and pet professionals.
Being a breeder and a trainer, I can honestly say that oftentimes breeders have no visibility of the issues that puppies can face post homing, In this blog, we will speak into what we can do as breeders to mitigate against negative behaviours and a lack of socialisation.
Early Puppy Socialisation – Why Is It Important?
FACT: Puppies go through several periods of learning that start from the moment they are born.
FACT: Puppies learn on a steep curve until 16 weeks of age.
FACT: HALF OF THAT TIME THEY ARE WITH BREEDERS.
So, if you think that a daily cuddle is enough to make puppies friendly and “socialised” or that at 8 weeks when they go off to their new homes they are “blank canvases” you need to read on…
Puppy Socialisation Periods
Scientific research on puppy development gives breeders incredibly valuable information. Studies show that if we do not maximise the natural learning windows and phases that our puppies go through, the opportunities to teach them vital life skills are missed.
Let’s talk about the phases during which a breeder has significant influence. They are called the Neonatal, Transition and Awareness phases.
Never heard of them?
That’s ok, we are about to delve into when these periods happen, and what we as breeders can do to optimise them….
Neonatal Phase 0-2 weeks of age.
Puppies have no control over the regulation of their own temperature and their ears and eyes are not yet open. They respond to touch and have a super sense of smell, but they predominantly spend their time sleeping.
They crawl around, and by the end of the period are trying to lift themselves up. They are unable to eliminate properly without assistance from their mother. However, do not be fooled into thinking that not much is happening. Their central nervous system is developing rapidly.
It is well evidenced and documented that during this period, exposing them to mild stressors, can have significant, long term effects on a puppy’s behavioural and physical development.
For example, short periods of daily handling and other stimuli, namely the introduction of scent is all it takes to optimise this learning window.
The benefits include a faster rate of development of the nervous system, faster hair growth, increased weight gain, enhanced development of motor and problem-solving skills, and earlier opening of the eyes. In behavioural terms, puppies exposed to varied stimulation during the neonatal period were found to be more confident, exploratory and socially adept in later life.
Transitional Phase 2 – 3 weeks
You will know this phase has started when the eyes will start to open, followed by the ears. As a result, puppies will start to respond to noise. This is commonly referred to as “startle”.
In the transitional period, puppies go through significant changes and neurological development.
They go from being unaware of their environment because they cannot hear or see it, to being extremely sensitive to it. By the end of this period, all of their senses are functioning.
Daily handling, and intentional “startling” of the litter during this time are proven to improve resilience and lower long term reactivity to external noises.
Awareness Phase 4 – 5 weeks
By now the puppies are getting used to their world. They are experiencing sensory OVERLOAD so things should be stable and constant while they adjust.
Negative experiences at this stage can have a big impact, so manage this period carefully.
You will know this phase has started because they will start to interact with their littermates, box and mouth each other, and anything else they come across, while they feel their way around their world and adjust to their new and constantly improving senses.
Canine Socialisation Phase 0-16 weeks
Although the puppies have been in a litter and interacting with each other, after the 5 week mark the level of interaction increases significantly.
During these interactions, they learn appropriate social behaviour with other dogs. Interactions with mother and littermates teach bite inhibition, appropriate dog etiquette, and general confidence with other dogs.
You will know this phase has started because you will see a leap forward in the type of play between littermates and mum. This learning and development can, in time, extend to other dogs outside of their immediate family providing appropriate safeguards are in place.
Learning how to successfully and effectively interact with other members of their own species is a fundamental skill for puppies to learn if they are to have fulfilled and balanced lives.
Human Socialisation Phase 0-16 weeks
As we have discussed, well-reared puppies should experience daily handling from birth. However, from the point of weaning this human interaction starts to have added value, because we feed them!
From 5 weeks onwards your puppy needs to experience people of differing gender, size, age and attire.
Science shows us that puppies who were exposed to an array of different humans during this period are more resilient, friendly and sociable as adults.
What Do You Need To Get Your Puppies Used To?
The term “snowflake” is a modern term used to describe a person who is anxious, fearful and easily offended. No one wants a “snowflake” puppy.
A puppy who is nervous and anti-social with people or other dogs is a complicated dog to live with, and will ultimately spend its life unhappy and fearful. The risk of rehoming is higher, and these dogs run the risk of developing long term behavioural issues.
Ensuring your puppies are resilient to experiencing new and novel scents, sights, and sounds is how you build a strong foundation and inspire confidence and ultimately long term success for your litters.
Get your paws on our detailed puppy socialisation information and plan and make it easy on yourself. It is inside our CPD accredited Puppy Socialisation Course for Breeders and takes you step by step through the process of raising your litter to be robust and ready for the world.
How Much Time Do You Need To Spend Socialising Puppies?
One of the biggest worries we hear from breeders is the amount of time it will take to socialise puppies. In fact, you can incorporate lots of the socialisation protocols into your daily breeder routines, you would be surprised how much you can achieve with a puppy in a short space of time.
All new and novel experiences should be introduced in short bursts, with time in between for sleeping and processing (another topic covered in the course) so you can make it manageable, even with a larger litter.
A well-socialised litter is a content, happy and quieter litter, that sleeps well and is able to be calm. There are also added benefits around getting some respite from what can be a relentless task of occupying your pups!
Our Puppy Socialisation Course is designed by Breeders, for Breeders. We get how difficult juggling can be. Puppies are a HUGE amount of work and we want to teach you some of our tricks that offer an effective solution that meets everyone’s needs.
How Socialisation Helps You Find The Best Homes For Your Puppies
Not only does socialisation help your puppies to develop confidence and resilience, but it’s an incredible opportunity to observe and learn about their individual personalities.
Puppies are individuals and while you are watching them navigate their way around their new and expanding world you can see the differences and personalities emerge.
In our Puppy Profiling Course, we teach you how to translate what you see to help your puppies end up in amazing forever homes.
Those forever homes also get a full profile breakdown and a set of exercises that they can follow. These are specific to their individual puppy and it enables them to continue the great work you have started.
What Happens If You Don’t Socialise Your Litter?
My honest opinion is that you have failed them on a major level.
I can’t dress it up, make it flowery and sound nice. It’s the truth.
With all of the information we now know, on just how critical socialisation is for puppies, I find it hard to believe that there are still breeders who wouldn’t invest the time to ensure the puppies they are breeding are “world ready”.
Puppies who are not socialised are behaviourally deficient, and as a result, they are far more likely to end up in rescue. These dogs are far more likely to find it really difficult to live their lives without being anxious, on some level, most of the time.
If we, as breeders, purport to be dog lovers, then correct socialisation should be featured as highly as regular food and water. It is their right, and our responsibility to be the best breeders we can be. No excuses.
Having worked in rescue, seen the mess and tried to fix broken dogs that were failed in their early developmental stages, I have seen the devastating and permanent effects a lack of socialisation has. The reality is that it often ends in death for the dog.
I think you have probably gathered that this piece in the breeding arena is a passion of mine.
I want to help breeders raise happy, socially competent dogs that can live in our busy and noisy human world without fear and anxiety… and I am not the only one feeling this way.
DEFRA have upped the ante around the requirements for licensed breeders to implement documented and comprehensive socialisation plans when raising litters.
Change is coming for the dogs of our future and I am excited! Join in for the ride!