Owners are often surprised to hear that the first 6 weeks they have their puppy is the most significant learning period for their dogs entire lives. This isn't because puppy looses his ability to be trained after this period. Any dog of any age can be taught to sit or lie down. Rather, it's the time for optimal socialisation & habituation. In lay man's terms, learning about being a well adjusted family dog in the human world & all which that entails. If a puppy has come from a breeder who is knowledgeable & proactive when it comes to socialisation & early environmental enrichment, puppy should already love life & everything in it. For more on the breeder's role see here:
Sadly though, most puppies lack early environmental enrichment & their owners have a lot of catching up to do, once puppy is homed at around 8 weeks old. The window of opportunity for socialisation & habituation closes around 14 weeks & before then, in a measured, calm & positive way, puppy needs to be exposed to every encounter he will be expected to accept as an adult.
The learning experience should be fun, not overwhelming, never scary & always for short period of time. In essence it's up to the owner to offer the opportunity to interact & it's up to the puppy to take it. Added to the time constraint is the advice most often given to owners to 'not take puppy out' until after their vaccinations. Sadly, a lot of owners will take this literally, while the clock for socialisation & habituation ticks furiously away.
Owners should understand that the exposure & experiences puppy encounters during their first 6 weeks in their new home is vaccination against so many adult dog behaviour problems. More pet dogs are put to sleep every year because of lack or early socialisataion, than ever die of the diseases we vaccinate against. What can owners do? Making sensible decisions to allow for safe early exposure, visit friends & family's homes to play with, feed & train puppy. Introduce puppy to well adjusted, fully vaccinated adult dogs, both in their home & in yours.
Carry puppy to low, then gradually higher traffic areas. Travel on public transport. Take trips to the coast, the supermarket car park, the pub-always carried in the owners arms until vaccinations have taken effect. Introduce puppy to sensible children old enough to take direction for fun fetch games & lure reward training. Attend a well organised, fun puppy training class-there will never be a better time to socialise your dog. Sit in with several trainers before you decide on a class & watch out for stressed puppies (cowering/excessive barking/stressed body language), bullying off-leash play or trainers who use harsh methods. That way you can be 100% happy with the learning environment you've chosen for your dog. A word about shy puppies. Never force interaction, allow puppy to approach first. Never allow shy or nervous puppies to be overwhelmed by another dog or person. Never, ever pass a shy puppy from person to person.
A word about over exuberant puppies. Socialisation & habituation is not about a free for all, devoid of control, as puppy runs riot with other dogs, animals or children, learning bad habits. Owners should ask themselves in any given situation 'what is my puppy learning?' & 'would I want him to repeat this behaviour in the future?' For a full list of early life experiences see http://info.drsophiayin.com/Portals/13722/docs/DrYinPupSocializationList.pdf Putting effort into those first 6 weeks with your new puppy, will result in a lifetime of reward, as you will have set puppy up on the road to becoming a well adjusted family pet.
Isn't that what we all want from our dogs?
Sue runs Muttamorphosis Dog Training and Behaviour in the Newcastle Upon Tyne offering puppy socialisation classes, Kennel Club's Good Citizen Award Scheme to Gold level & clicker training classes. Sue also conducts behavioural consultations for clients through veterinary referral & works in conjunction with numerous Newcastle & Durham city vets. Sue is a certified behaviourist who has studied Canine Psychology with the Animal Care College, & has trained intensively with John Rogerson of the Northern Centre for Canine Behaviour.
Sue is proud to be a fully assessed member of the A.P.D.T. UK & has Kennel Club Listed Status. Sue has also reached Competency Assessment Level 1 for clicker trainers having trained with Kay Laurance Learning About Dog's Team. Sue is currently working towards her Kennel Club Accreditation in companion dog training. As well as the Dog Blog on her Muttamorphosis website,
Sue McCabe is a regular blogger on Dog Star Daily, the US website run by world esteemed Veterinary Behaviourist Dr. Ian Dunbar. She has also published articles in Woof! magazine & the APDT UK trainers quarterly magazine. Sue has her own Youtube channel demonstrating training techniques for pet dog owners. For a full list of Sue's involvement in dogs, please see http://www.muttamorphosis.co.uk/about/