There are a lot of different theories about how much a puppy should be socialized to by different time periods. A number of dog trainers have come up with great advice about socialization of normal puppies that we have the opportunity to work with from birth or a very young age. Seven things a puppy should know by 7 weeks and Meet 100 people by the 100th day of life are some of them. These are great tools to use with new pups, but can be overwhelming and even detrimental for special needs dogs from feral, neglect, or sensory deprived situations. To understand the thought process behind these guides, it is helpful to know a little about critical periods in puppy development.
0 to 7 Weeks: Neonatal, Transition, Awareness, and Canine Socialization.
During this period, puppy learns about social interaction, play, and inhibiting aggression from its mother and littermates. Puppies must stay with their mother and siblings through this critical period because this is when they learn to accept discipline and basic bite inhibition.
5 to 14 Weeks: Interspecies Socialization Period.
The puppy now has the brain waves of an adult dog, but his attention span is short. This period is when the most rapid learning occurs and socialization to sounds, people, objects, and textures is vital. Dogs that miss out on human socialization during this period tend to be on a spectrum from aloof ----> fearful -----> reactive to humans. Dogs that are removed from litter mates before 7 weeks are at increased risk of reactivity to unknown dogs.
8 to 10 Weeks: Fear Imprint Period
Any traumatic, frightening or painful experience will have a more lasting effect on the puppy than if it occurred at any other time in its life.
11 to 16 Weeks: Seniority Classification Period.
Puppy starts to cut teeth and apron strings and by the end of this period the puppy begins testing its position in the family unit. He will learn more about leadership during this time than at any other time in his lifetime. Dogs who have not been around humans but were around dogs at this time will need additional work on accepting and understanding leadership and guidance from humans and are more likely to take environmental cues about rules from dogs.
4 to 8 Months: Play, Fight, and Flight Instinct Period.
Puppy also starts actively deciding how to respond to uncertainty, startling events, and fear. By 20 weeks of age, the basic development of "being a dog" is set. Any puppy not socialized to humans at this point will be a remedial learner and require a behavioral modification program. This is also when adult males begin to correct adolescent males in a more direct, rough manner.
6 to 14 Months: Second Fear Imprint Period
Puppy again shows fear of new situations and even familiar situations. He may be reluctant to approach someone or something new. It is important that you are patient and act very matter of fact in these situations. Never force the dog to face the situation. This fear period is normally more marked in male dogs.
A feral, severely neglected, or sensory deprived dog has not had the benefit of being purposely exposed to people and novel items. Feral dogs might possibly be the most adept at responding appropriately to new objects as they have survived life on the streets and been exposed to any number of objects in their environment. However, they have not had the human contact or exposure to multiple humans. Dogs from sensory deprived environments (puppy mills, spent an entire lifetime in a kennel or on a chain) will have a very challenging time responding to novel stimulus. With that in mind, this is a modified version of the Puppy Rule of Twelve I have developed for remedial dog training for dogs like Shawn This is designed primarily for feral, severely neglected, or sensory deprived dogs.
It is important to remember when dealing with these dogs to go slowly and refrain from touch, talk, or treats when they show they are uncomfortable or scared. Be sure to reinforce "return to calm" behavior if they are fearful or uncertain. And, while a certain degree of challenging is appropriate, never force a dog to interact with a new object or person. Instead, make a note of the object and the dog's response and refer to a qualified trainer on desensitizing the dog to that object.
Because we should be flexible and patient with the needs of the dog, I am reluctant to put a time limit on when these special needs dogs should have experienced all these new things. I would say that exposure to a majority of these items and activities by twelve weeks in foster would be a good goal, but by no means should be a rule.
1. Experienced 12 different surfaces: wood flooring, carpet, tile, cement, linoleum, grass, wet grass, dirt, mud, puddles, deep pea gravel, wood chips, grates, uneven surfaces.
2. Experienced 12 different objects as enrichment: Kong, stuffed/fuzzy toys, hard toys, funny sounding toys, small tennis size ball, larger bowling ball-sized ball, wooden items, crumpled paper, cardboard items, milk jugs, pop bottles, metal bowls or pans, aluminum pie plates.
3. Experienced 12 different locations: kennel or crate, kitchen, living room, bathroom, basement, garage, laundry room with washer/dryer running, car (not moving, just get in), car (moving), veterinarian hospital (just to say hi & visit, lots of cookies, no vaccinations), walk in neighborhood.
4. Met and played with 12 new people (outside of family): adults (mostly men), elderly adults, people in wheelchairs, people who walk differently. Children and teenagers as appropriate for the dog and safety of the minor.
5. Experienced 12 different people movements: jumping up and down or jumping jacks, touching toes, twirling, reaching up high, reaching over dog, balancing on one leg, two people dancing, running in place, windmill arms, two people tossing a ball, people hugging, people tickling and laughing.
6. Exposed to 12 different noises (ALWAYS keep positive and watch dog's comfort leveled): cd of life sounds gradually on increasing volume, clapping, snapping, adults talking loudly at each other, children playing outside, doorbell, knocking, garage door opening, door slamming, dropping pie pan or cookie sheet, garage door opening, doorbell, children playing, vacuum.
7. Exposed to 12 fast moving objects (don’t allow to chase): rolling a ball or toy truck across the room, kids on skateboards, people on rollerblades, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, people jogging, scooters, vacuums, children running, children playing soccer, squirrels, cats (with dog on training tether), wheelchairs
8. Handled by owner & family 12 times a week, increasing touch as
9. Eaten from 12 different shaped containers: hand fed, wobbly bowl, metal, cardboard box, paper plate, coffee cup, coffee filter, china, pie plate, plastic, frying pan, Kong, spoon fed, paper bag,
10. Eaten in 12 different locations: back yard, front yard, crate, kitchen, living room, basement, laundry room, bathroom, friend’s house, car, school yard or park, bathtub.
11. Played with 12 different dogs as much as possible depending on dog reactivity and social needs.
12. Left alone (safely crated if needed) away from family and all other animals for increasing time periods 12 times a week.
This is modified from the "Puppy Rule of Twelve" behavior handout by Upper Valley Humane Society.
The concept for that handout was adapted from
The concept for that handout was adapted
with permission from Pat Schaap’s “RULE OF 7” for seven week old puppies