Rescue Dog Development Part One: How To Manage The 4 Critical Periods Of Socialization

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You know that when it comes to dog development, I am really interested in it. I love knowing what goes into making a dog, a dog. Socialization is a big part of how dogs end up. However, we often look at socialization from when we bring puppy home or once he gets out to dog training classes. The fact is that puppy socialization begins from the moment a puppy is home, which is why we are going to look at all the stages of puppy socialization in this two-part series.

The Break Down

Socialization is important in all stages of a dog’s life but there are key periods while they are young.

When it comes to socialization, it is a very important part of dog ownership. In fact, it starts before your dog comes home and can define your dog’s overall personality. If you are getting a puppy from a rescue, they will be working hard to make sure that your puppy is getting the proper socialization while they are with them.

While puppy socialization is important, dogs receive socialization throughout their life. In fact, there are several key periods when socialization will be vital for the dog’s proper development.

In this article, we are looking at these key periods specifically.

It is important to note that while these key periods are important for dog development; rescued dogs often have all of these key periods done. If any were missed, there are opportunities through proper care, love, and socializing to minimize the effects of those missed periods.

Puppy socialization involves more than just meeting other dogs.

An adult or senior dog is a worthy dog to adopt and many of them come from situations where all of their key periods were met. Especially since many key periods occur with their mom.

Now let’s move forward and look at key socialization periods from birth until puppies are due to go to their new homes.

Neonatal Period

Even though they are blind and deaf, neonatal puppies are still experiencing socialization.

The first stage that we should look at is the neonatal period. This covers the time from birth until a puppy is about 12 days old.

It is often surprising for people to learn that this period of time is a key period for socialization. Without proper socialization during this time, a puppy can have some stunting in his emotional and intellectual development.

As you know, puppies are born with their eyes and ears closed… essentially, they are blind and deaf. However, they are not completely without some way to explore the world around them. Puppies use tactile stimulation to learn during those first 12 days. They also use olfaction, which is their sense of smell, to get a bearing on what is happening around them.

As the puppy nurses, he becomes used to the smell of his mother and siblings as well as the “den” where they are sleeping. This helps him feel safe and secure.

In addition to smell, puppies are very aware of any changes in the temperature in their world. When they become cold or hot, the puppy will experience some stress. In addition, they will experience stress whenever their mother leaves the whelping box or den.

Minor Stressors Are Good for the Puppy

Minor stressors such as handling are excellent for the socialization of young puppies.

While we may not want puppies to be severely stressed, minor stressors lay the foundation for a dog’s socialization. 

Studies have shown that dogs that experience minor stressors during this stage of development tend to be more outgoing and easier to train. In fact, there are several military and police dog training and whelping programs that utilize this minor stressors technique to “build better dogs.”

Puppies receive minor stressors as they are handled. Minor stressors include being:

  • Cleaned
  • Picked up
  • Moved
  • Weighed
  • Examined

These types of stressors are actually very important for dogs as it teaches them at a very young age that humans are a positive part of their life.

For orphaned puppies, rescue groups work hard to follow the type of stimulation a puppy would receive during this key period. By doing this, they can mimic what the mother dog would do naturally and ensure that the puppy is receiving all the stimulation he needs.

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