A HAPPY LIFE
The importance of a critical period for socialisation is hard to overestimate. Socialisation should be thought as priming your dog for a happy life! If for instance, a puppy doesn’t get enough exposure to men and beards, before the socialisation clock runs out, the risk for fear responses and aggression directed at men with beards runs higher for that dog as an adult. Also, as dogs are excellent discriminators, so adequate exposure to women or eight-year olds, for example, does not guarantee a generalisation to men or two- year old kids. So it is really important to expose your puppy to as wide a social sphere as possible as the more about life with us that they find normal or positive during this period , the easier it will be to take them out and about and expose them to forms to forms of enrichment such as walks and play and holidays and the more likely they are to enjoy them! Socialisation really means getting the puppy used to anything it may have to encounter in later life, including challenges such as car rides, veterinary exams, cats, traffic, football games, stairs or grandma in a wheelchair.
There are many benefits to heavy and planned socialisation. First one is obvious in that the more you do the fewer things you’ll miss. The second advantage has a wider effect in that the more your puppy encounters novel situations and gets over it, the more he has an underlying trait of stability and his overall confidence grows. The more puppy hood experiences your puppy must draw on, the more resilient the overall character. With this character even if you miss something with your socialisation they will be handled more easily by your adult dog. A much more passive approach to socialisation, just a few visits to a local park and maybe outside a supermarket, is inadequate for some dogs. Aim for a systematic approach which is written down and is varied each week in terms of locations and stimuli and does NOT end at week 16!! Socialisation especially for some breeds is part of their life long after the critical period ends. It is beyond beneficial for your dog as you end up with a dog who is at reduced risk for fearfulness and biting, but one who is also much less chronic stress as an adult. Your aim is to get a relaxed, confident, solid adult temperament by actively increasing the number of strongly positive experiences. It is like putting money in the bank!!
Two of my top tips in any socialisation involving people, is hand feeding. Rather than just exposing your puppy to young children, have the young children feed the puppy small tasty treats. Each little treat builds up more money in the bank for young children. Also, if you have a predatory type of dog who are addicted to toys or balls, is to have people in the category you’re trying to cover (say men with beards) then engage in favourite games with your puppy.
Remember you re aiming to put money in the bank for your puppy’s future!!