IMAGINE YOU ARE SIX…
…and you have spent your entire life indoors with few visitors. You’ve never stepped foot outside of your apartment. Suddenly, on your 7th Birthday you are allowed to walk out the door and experience Manhattan. Take a moment to comprehend the magnitude of that experience and you will immediately understand why socializing your pup to New York City before 16 weeks is so important.
Puppies learn more in the first few months of life than at any other time. A puppy’s sensitive period for socialization starts at 3 weeks and lasts through 12 weeks of age. From weeks 3-12 everything a pup experiences permanently shapes the way they feel about the world and what’s in it. During this time, pups are open to bonding with people and other animals. Their brain circuitry is developing, and they are *literally* making neural connections that will determine how they deal with stress, novel objects, and novel environments.
How they experience the world during this time has an enormous influence on whether they will move through the world confident and prepared to explore or nervous and ready to hide, defend, or aggress.
If you’re interested in the neurobiology behind brain development and how socialization and an enriched environment affect the development of your puppy’s personality, check out this article.
Developmental Stages of Puppyhood: Before You Bring Pup Home
The exact timeline can vary slightly between litters and individuals, but here’s what you need to know about the critical developmental stages your pup goes through between birth and 16 weeks of age:
Neonatal Period: 0-12 days
Puppies are born blind, deaf, and unable to regulate their body temperature or eliminate on their own. Survival is reliant on mom’s care & huddling with siblings for warmth. Their first experiences of the world are through smell and touch. Mom does everything for them, including stimulating their genitals so they will eliminate. Her nurturing presence lays the groundwork for healthy emotional development.
Transitional Period: 13-28 days
Pups open their eyes and begin to hear! They start to stand, walk, and play. There is so much to see, hear, experience, and talk about. They expand their vocabulary from grunts to barks.
During The First Sensitive Socialization Period, between 3-6 weeks, your pup is learning what it means to be a dog among dogs.
Weeks 4-7 are spent growing teeth, transitioning from milk to solid food, and exploring. Pups continue to be exposed to new things, play, and learn how to understand and communicate with their body language. Time with mom and pups is critical as important social skills, such as bite inhibition, can only be learned from other canines. A pup should never be removed from mom & siblings before 7 weeks of age.
Puppy should be in a high traffic area in the home and have the opportunity to explore a variety of environments at this stage in their development. They should spend the majority of their time hanging in a high traffic area where lots of humans are present, meeting new dog friendly people and exploring different surfaces, objects, smells, and sounds.
If you’re currently considering purchasing a puppy from a breeder, ask your breeder about their socialization practices. Here are a few short videos of breeders doing socialization very well… and the pups are adorable!
- Puppy Obstacle Course
- Common Breeder Socialization Setup
- Puppy Adventure Box
- A Singleton Pup (Only One In The Litter) of nearly 4 weeks meets 5.5 week “surrogate littermates”
The Second Sensitive Socialization Period: Welcome to NYC!
Your pup will come home with you between weeks 7-8! If you can, let your pup stay with mom for week 7 and make the end of week 7 or the beginning of week 8 the time they transition to life with you.
Weeks 8-10 or 9-11 (depending on the litter and the individual – your breeder can guide you) are critical. Positive experiences in many safe environments and around a large variety of people and other pups is a *MUST* for pups during these two weeks. Preventing scary things from happening is especially important during this time. The experiences your pup has during this short window leave an indelible mark on their brain circuitry that is difficult to change. Flying a pup solo to his or her forever family is discouraged during this time. If you are acquiring a pup from a shelter, choose the least stressful option for transport and bring your pup home sooner rather than later. If your pup is in a stable foster home with a foster family that is actively socializing, bringing your pup home sooner may still better but preventing trauma is of the utmost importance. Make an carefully weighed, informed decision.
Make sure to have a veterinary appointment scheduled for their first week home and schedule a private training session in advance of pups arrival. Your pup will need to have completed one round of vaccinations and have been cleared by a vet before attending class or trainer supervised play groups. At this time it is critical that your pup interact with other healthy puppies to continue the lessons mom & siblings started.
“It is now the standard of care for puppies to go outside and socialize before they are fully vaccinated. Inadequate socialization and lack of exposure to the New York City streets as a young puppy is the greatest cause of behavior problems later in life.To minimize risk, pups who are not fully vaccinated should avoid high traffic areas where other dogs with unknown vaccine status congregate, such as pet stores and dog parks. Lauren can help guide you through this process so that your pup receives the ultimate cognitive and emotional benefits of socialization while staying medically safe. NYC also offers many safe organized classes and playgroups to socialize your puppy with other dogs starting as early as 8 weeks old.”
Jeffrey Lavine, DVM: VetCierge – Veterinary House Calls
Weeks 7-12 are an especially sensitive time in a pup’s life. At this point pups are curious about the human world and are very impressionable. It’s essential that pups of this age be introduced to many environments in a systematic, safe way. Just as vaccines are an important part of routine preventative medical care, socialization acts as a vaccine against many problem behaviors. The majority of the second sensitive socialization period happens in pups new forever home, so it’s up to YOU to continue the good work your breeder has put in or to make up for lost time if you don’t know what’s happened in the first 2 months of your pups life. One word of thumb is that each pup needs to meet 100 dog friendly humans in the first 12 weeks of life! Yikes – that’s a lot!
As a resident of Manhattan, your puppy will need additional socialization. Pups need to explore at their own pace and have lots of positive experiences with new things, and there is a long list of stimuli that your pup needs to be safely exposed to to in a very short amount of time. They are learning that sirens aren’t scary, toddlers are erratic and that’s ok, how to deal with rolling carts coming towards them, and what different people and breeds look like.
Now that you know what socialization is, future posts will focus on the “how to” of socializing our pups so that they are emotionally and physically safe. Don’t worry, I can help! I’ll be writing more on the how to’s of socializing your pup in NYC soon. I am always here to answer questions or help you hands on.