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Critical Puppy Socialisation Window

So your new puppy has arrived home and they are around 8 weeks old. Maybe a bit younger, maybe a few weeks older. There are approximately 6 to 8 weeks until they can go to training classes once fully vaccinated. That is if you decide to go to training classes at all. Firstly well done for reading this, the good news is your puppy is most susceptible to learning good habits up to the age of around 16 weeks! After that, it becomes much harder. So you thought you would just chill for a few weeks until puppy classes start? Scientifically this isn't best practice. 


The period between zero days old and around 16 weeks old (latest) is called the critical socialisation window. This is the period when your puppy's brain is wiring up, with learning and behaviour patterns that will be the rules it lives by for the rest of its life! For better or worse. It is during this period your puppy should experience things it will need to deal with in its life going forward. For example, if you live on a busy road that has lots of lorries and motorbikes go past, the puppy should have some measured and positive exposure to this in small structured doses. If your puppy doesn't see a motorbike until 6 months old you are running a risk of having a dog that lunges or cowers at traffic forever more. This is just one example.


Up to the point of going home, the breeder should be carrying out a puppy plan. Any good breeder who cares about the temperament of their litters should be able to tell you what puppy plan they have been following. Once the puppy is home it is up to the owner. Here is a short excerpt from The Kennel Club website about the critical socialisation window. 


"The term "socialisation" in simple terms means the learning process that a puppy must undergo in order to learn key life skills to ensure that it is happy and confident in its environment, and can communicate effectively within its social group. This involves having pleasant social interactions with adults, children, vets, adult dogs and other animals, as well as careful exposure to different situations in the environment like traffic, crowds, travelling in the car, vacuum cleaners and any sights and sounds it will have to cope with in life. It is so important that this is done thoroughly and correctly when your puppy is still young and he is young enough to happily accept new things. It is critical that this is done from birth up to 16 weeks of age, otherwise, important learning and development phases have passed."


In light of this information above; if you think about the standard path puppy owners take which is to get the puppy home and do not very much until 16 weeks, it is not difficult to see how the path could be optimised. Namely to set-up your dog in your home successfully right now as soon as it arrives home, rather than waiting until vaccinations are live and then taking your dog to training classes. By this time some undesirable behaviours can already be installed. I have seen it and often think to myself if only I had seen this puppy at 8 weeks. Sadly this is the position many puppy owners find themselves when they attend their first class. I do think this is a gap in logic that can be filled by a new mindset of setting puppies up for success as soon as they are home