Show Me the Love! Social Butterfly

In 1961, Daniel Freedman, Orville Elliott, and Josh King published a study on Puppies in Science magazine. They took five litters of Cocker Spaniels and three litters of Beagles and conducted an isolation experiment. All of the litters and their mothers were kept in a fenced in, one-acre field without any human contact whatsoever. They were given food and water via openings in the fence. Each week, puppies from each litter were taken from their littermates for socialization. They were taken at either two, three, five, seven or nine weeks of age. At the end of the week-long socialization, they were returned to their littermates and mother. Every day they were socialized, there was a ten minutes test to determine how much time the puppy spent near the experimenter. The two-week-old puppies were too young to do anything. The three-week-old puppies were able to interact with the experimenter and spend most of the ten minutes mouthing, pawing or biting their human companion. At five, seven and nine weeks of age, the pups were initially cautious, but then warmed up to the human. It took progressively longer for them to warm up as they got older. Once they turned fourteen weeks, all but five puppies were taken out of the field and tested for two weeks. Five were left behind and remained with their mothers the entire time. As one can imagine, the effect of the lack of socialization on those puppies was terrible. The scientist concluded that, unless puppies are socialized before fourteen weeks of age, “withdrawal reactions from humans became so intense that normal relationships could not thereafter be established.”

This is one of many studies that underscore the importance of early and consistent socialization. Sadly, a recent study by the University of Guelph in Canada, suggests that puppies are not adequately socialized nowadays. These dogs are at a higher risk of developing behavioral problems. In the study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, researchers surveyed almost 300 pet owners, shortly after they acquired a puppy and then again when the puppy was twenty weeks old. Researches found that one-third of pet owners provided their puppies with very few opportunities to socialize. They provided interaction outside the home with other dogs fewer than five times every two weeks and with people fewer than ten times in that same period. Fifty-one percent of pet owners failed to attend puppy classes. There were significant differences in the owner’s disciplinary techniques between those who attended classes and those who didn’t. Puppies who didn’t go to puppy school were more likely to be afraid of noise and thunder. They were also more likely to react negatively to crate training. Pet owners who did not attend classes were more prone to using negative reinforcement training practices. Those who did attend classes were more likely to respond to bad behavior by redirecting their dog, ignoring bad behavior and rewarding good behavior.

Puppy classes are not only about training, they also provide invaluable opportunities for socializing your puppy and exposing him to different environments. If possible, take him on car rides, in planes, and on trains. Take him to home improvement stores, pet bakeries, coffee shops, restaurants, malls, and friends’ houses. Take him to the beach, swimming pool, mountains and parks. Allow him to interact with known and trusted dogs and other puppies. Expose him to as many different environments and situations as you can. Have trusted people hold him, walk him and give him treats. Dogs who are properly socialized as puppies tend to be less hyperactive, less fearful, less aggressive and less skittish. They are also less likely to engage in unwanted activities, such as chewing or other destructive behaviors. While it is good to socialize your dog at all life stages, it is imperative to socialize him consistently from three to sixteen weeks of age – to be truly effective, socialization must occur at an early age. Socializing an adult dog, who was not socialized as a puppy, is more about behavior modification than it is about socializing. So do your puppy and yourself a favor, and enroll him in puppy school sooner rather than later.

Photos Courtesy of The Author