According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, one of the biggest reasons for canine-owner conflict is due to issues in behavior, usually leading to the owner needing to rehome their dog. A dog’s mental health is just as important as physical health.
While there are many factors to consider on the topic of behavior, it should be noted that all dogs have what is called a critical socialization period.
This is the first 4 to 12 weeks of a puppy’s life, where their experiences, whether they be positive or negative impact and shape who the dog will become.
During this critical period, exposing a puppy to safe, varied, and positive experiences is key to ensuring that you have a confident and healthy minded adult dog in the future.
Failure to socialize your puppy can lead to lasting impacts on both the dog’s and the owner’s life leading to behavioral issues including fear, avoidance, or aggression.
Socialization begins as early as two weeks of age, where puppies should start to experience mild stress by holding them, turning their bodies, or varying the temperature.
By 3 to 4 weeks they start to interact with their littermates where they learn the importance of bite inhibition, which is the ability of a dog to control the amount of pressure exerted when biting. Good bite inhibition is developed by receiving consistent and immediate feedback. Puppies naturally teach each other to control how hard they bite by ceasing play if another dog bites too hard. In that moment, the rough player learned that if he or she wants play to continue, then she has to soften his or her bite.
During the critical socialization period new experiences are essential! Many people may think that socializing their puppy with their other dogs in the household is enough, however, this is not the case. It is important for the puppy to meet other dogs outside of the home to ensure new and varied experiences. The key to socialization is controlled interactions to set your pup up for success. Finding one dog at a time for your dog to play with outside of the home is a good idea as long as the other dog is well socialized and can give good cues to your pup to teach positive social interactions.
During the critical period, make sure all interactions are either neutral or positive. Negative experiences are detrimental and can be challenging to come back from later in the dog’s life.
Let your dog gradually experience the world around them, taking on new situations with mild stress that they can easily recover from is healthy. But forcing a stressful situation will lead to negative effects.
Expose your puppy to a variety of sights, sounds, smells, and environments, remembering that your dog is seeing and experiencing the world around them for the first time with each interaction shaping how they will see the world.