Socializing a puppy: even before birth!
By Dorothée Pâris Pasturel • 15 June 2022
When you adopt a puppy, you already know that there will be a lot of socialization work to do in the first few months. Exposure to different stimuli, desensitization, socialization with other puppies, etc. What you may not know is that the socialization process begins long before your pet is born and that the people in charge of breeding will play a crucial and influential role in the future of your relationship.
When it comes to socialization, it is a mistake to think that everything happens between 8 and 16 weeks, and that you alone are responsible for its success or failure. Of course, this period is very important and you will have to expose your new pet to many situations during this time, but genetics, how they are raised by their mother and the role of the person who will raise the litter are major elements in the puppy’s psychological balance and social development.
In order for the puppies to be adaptable, receptive and willing to interact with humans, the mother must have these characteristics and pass them on to her offspring. For example, a timid bitch who is reluctant to interact will teach (by emulation) wariness to her puppies. Another example, quite different but related to genetics, is that two parents with a history of shyness can greatly increase the chances of producing puppies with timid and nervous temperaments.
So, in summary, choosing parents with stable, healthy, social behaviours will maximize the chances of producing offspring who are more open to socialization.
The mother’s training of her puppies
The way in which the mother raises and educates her puppies will also influence how they behave, how they handle stress and, therefore, how they adapt to new situations. It is important that the weaning process is natural and that the person in charge of the litter does not impose a premature or drastic separation between the puppies and the mother. How to know when it’s time to start weaning? The time is right when ALL of these factors are present:
- The puppies are at least 7 weeks old and healthy.
- The puppies are able to eat kibble, to feed and drink independently.
- The mother shows signs of impatience during or at the end of nursing sessions.
- The mother feels the need to have more and more frequent breaks away from her puppies.
photo credit Jametlene Reskp
Weaning should be approached gradually, over a period of 1 to 3 weeks, and periods of cohabitation between mother and pup should continue (for educational purposes) until the puppies leave for their new families (when they are at least 8 weeks old). It would also be unwise to radically remove an entire litter from the mother, for the sake of her psychological balance. A person wishing to breed dogs must therefore absolutely have a thorough knowledge of canine behaviour, and they will play a major role in the future of the puppies born by selecting and providing:
- Breeding dogs that are healthy in mind and body, sociable with humans and free of behavioural problems.
- A developmentally appropriate and stimulating environment for the puppies and the mother, keeping stress to a minimum.
- Daily human interaction, handling and desensitization for the puppies.
- Natural weaning after 7 weeks, minimizing stress and susceptibility to anxiety and/or other behavioural problems.
- Basic puppy socialization education for adopters.
Your role in your dog’s socialization
That’s all well and good, but what about your duties regarding socialization after adoption? To optimize your new friend’s socialization, when he’s between 2.5 and 6 months old, you should:
- Gradually expose him to new situations so he learns to handle stress, and build trust between you and him.
- Expose him to and have him interact regularly with men, women and children.
- Frequently put him in contact with other healthy puppies and adult dogs (well trained and under the control of their handler) so that he learns to communicate with his peers and maintains his social skills.
- Desensitize him in a positive way to handling and restraints, which he will have to deal with throughout his life (veterinary exams, grooming, interactions with children, etc.).
- Teach him good manners and set clear boundaries so that the notion of respect (previously taught by the puppies’ mother) is maintained in his new environment … which will reassure him and create an unshakeable bond of trust between you.
Now you have the recipe for optimal socialization. Remember that socialization is an education that can also be given to an older dog or one that has been deprived at a younger age. Establish a bond of trust and he will explore the world with you!