There are many different factors that can influence whether your new puppy grows into a well behaved and friendly dog or one that is more shy or aggressive. You may not realize how much early life experiences can and do affect your puppy well into adulthood. However, there are steps you can take to ensure a positive outcome.
A puppy is born with an immature brain and neurological system that needs additional time and experience to develop appropriately. Although dogs may inherit particular behavior characteristics based on genetics, research has shown that life experience plays a big role in a puppy’s development.
Early life experiences, even in puppies from 3-16 days old, can affect whether or not the puppy’s brain and dispositions develop in a way that allows them to handle stress later in life.
The primary socialization period for dogs is approximately 3 weeks to 16 weeks. This is the period when they are most open to learning new things, developing acceptable social behaviors, and practicing life skills that will serve them the rest of their lives. This is a critical window of time in their life that should never be overlooked. This is when puppy socialization is most important.
Puppy socialization includes exposure to other animals, play opportunities with litter mates or other puppies, and supervised interactions with young children. Puppies benefit from a variety of new sights, sounds and smells.
A lack of early socialization can predispose puppies to fear, anxiety and aggressive behavior later in life. In general, the more new and positive experiences a puppy has, the more well-adjusted that puppy will become later in life.
Keep in mind that it is important not to overwhelm young puppies, especially those that are initially shy or timid. Owners should strive to create positive experiences while at the same time being patient with a shy puppy and allowing them to socialize at their own pace. Strangers and other animals can be very scary or intimidating for them.
Even though the early socialization window may close by the time the puppy is 16 weeks old, that doesn’t mean learning and socialization should ever stop. Every new experience, regardless of age, is an opportunity for your dog to learn.
Owners of young dogs should make an ongoing effort to train and socialize their dogs well into adulthood. You can do this by introducing your dog to new people, other animals and new situations on a continuing basis.
Remember, wellness exams are the first step in ensuring that your puppy or older dog is healthy. Sometimes, a dog will display aggressive behavior if an underlying illness or medical condition needs treatment, unbeknownst to the owner without a veterinarian’s advice.
The number one reason why dogs are given up or end up at animal shelters is due to behavior issues. Puppy socialization greatly increases the chance of the dog being more social and particularly less dog aggressive.
Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital