13 Critical Weeks – authored by Dee Bennett

As a Puppy School Coordinator my passion is puppy development and behavior. Socialisation is the foundation and the key to success for a lifetime of loyalty and happiness.

Recently my sister asked me why her 6 year old male staffy mix which she’s had since an 8 week old pup is now behaving increasingly aggressive to everyone. When I asked if he’d been socialised as a Puppy she replied ‘I took him everywhere with me’. I asked what did he do everywhere, ‘he was just with me doing whatever I had to do’. This is often the response I receive and unfortunately does not equate to effective socialisation.

The critical 13 weeks

A puppy responds best to new experiences or novelties if exposed to them early in life, between 3 – 16 weeks. Each exposure must be a positive interaction, praise and treat puppy every time they look at, sniff and touch the object, animal or person. Watch your puppy for signs of uncertainty such as anxiousness and fear, stop, retreat to a safe distance and start again. The distance is determined by your puppy, look for physical indications your puppy has relaxed. Be patient, persistent and always end on a positive experience from puppy’s perspective.

Puppy Perspective

Let’s take a moment to see the world through our puppy’s eyes, so many different things. The food processor used to prepare our dinner becomes a loud ferocious monster.  The wooden floorboards down the hall I always slip on when I run down not like the carpet, I’m scared of the floorboards now. The delivery man delivering your parcels has a really scary hat on and I’m not too sure about him. Although we are familiar with all these situation s our new puppy is not and needs to be socialised with them to learn what they are and how to accept them in everyday life.

Encourage your puppy by acknowledging the object e.g. the food processor. Place the object a safe distance from puppy at a level they can investigate it. Be confident yourself and use a happy tone when encouraging puppy. Be quick with rewards and praise for all positive interactions, a look or a sniff praise!

Set Up For Success

These everyday things can be a frightening experience to a puppy. Teaching your puppy to socialise effectively allows them to recover from frights quickly then investigate the scary object and finally to accept the object.

From 8 weeks old allow your puppy to experience different

  • Animals
  • People
  • Substrate
  • Environments
  • Sounds
  • Equipment\

Provide a safe and calm atmosphere when socialising and experiencing new situations. Your puppy will be watching you for guidance, show them how to interact. Keep a close on eye on your puppy’s body language particularly changes to their

  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Lips
  • Head position
  • Body posture
  • Tail position

Enrol in a puppy socialisation program as early as possible to expand your puppy’s opportunity in a safe, controlled and experienced environment while gaining the confidence and knowledge to provide your puppy a long happy social life.

A few things to remember

  • Puppy’s are in a critical period of development where things are learnt quickly and for life. It is important they learn how to investigate new experiences and recover well from frights or unknown situations.
  • Only socialise puppy in public areas outside the home once they have completed their vaccination regime allowing 10 – 14 days after final vaccine.
  • While learning use lots of treats. They can be gradually phased out after repeated successful interactions.
  • Treat size should only be the size of a pea. Adjust meal intake to compensate treat intake.
  • Your puppy’s body language speaks 1000 words. If you need a puppy language interpreter speak to our friendly vet team.

The most important thing to remember is have fun with your puppy.  Play games that help encourage learning and experiencing new things. Occupy both body and mind, a sleepy puppy is a happy puppy.

If you are interested in attending a Puppy Socialisation Class, we will be trialing sessions in early 2020 as part of a new program we will be offering for puppies 7 – 14 weeks of age. Please contact the surgery for more information!