Puppy Parties and Beyond: The Role of Early Age Socialisation Practices on Adult Dog Behaviour

Reference = Howell, T.J. et al. (2015) Puppy Parties and Beyond: The Role of Early Age Socialization Practices on Adult Dog Behaviour. Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports, 6: 143-153.

  • Age-appropriate socialisation practices should begin within a few days of birth and extend right through into adulthood
  • Practices should expose dog to experiences, people and objects the dog is likely to encounter throughout its life in a controlled and pleasurable way
  • Socialised dogs as puppies produce less behavioural issues as adults (aggression, fearfulness)
  • They engage better in positive social behaviours and games with humans than dogs without proper socialisation
  • Owners must ensure that dog continues to have varied experiences throughout its life
  • Important for veterinarians to provide information to owners on health and behaviour and education about proper socialisation practices
  • A good companion dog is dependent on the development of a successful dog-owner relationship
  • If the dog-owner relationship fails or isn’t established, dogs are likely to be relinquished to shelters which is distressing for owners and potentially fatal for dogs
  • Early socialisation has been considered to have long-lasting psychological benefits and is an important component to develop a thriving dog-owner bond
  • Socialisation is typically desensitising dogs to experiences, animals and objects they are likely to encounter throughout life while keeping the process pleasant
  • This process should include varying sounds, textures, animal species, humans of varying ages, sex and race
  • The process must begin early because a sensitive period of socialisation is experienced during this time. The critical time is seen to be before 14 weeks as after this it has been shown that normal human bonds were no longer established
  • Puppies up until 3 weeks of age have long-term benefits from being handled by humans as their senses are still forming and touch is their primary navigation tool during this period
  • One study has shown that stimulation methods producing mild stress through handling during first 10 days have positive results as the puppies become more resilient to stress as adults
  • Socialisation period begins at 3 weeks through until 12 weeks of age and no later than 14 weeks and involves play between litter mates – therefore particular care is needed for raising lone puppies
  • Fear responses also develop during this period (3-12 weeks) with responses to loud noises and unfamiliar environments reported at 5 weeks with differences established between danger and harmless stimuli over time
  • Fear towards humans occurs early in this period with positive human contact rapidly solving it
  • During the socialisation period (if done properly) puppies become less fearful of unfamiliar environments and demonstrate increased approach behaviours towards humans and objects
  • Crucial for long-term relationships with humans
  • Socialisation continues into juvenile period (after 12 weeks), if properly socialised early, means they become less stressed to new unfamiliar stimuli and cope better
  • Organisations recommend engaging in socialisation practices with puppies in socialisation period and early into juvenile period
  • Lack of socialisation during critical period and appropriate on-going throughout life can lead to development of behavioural problems (undesirable aggression and fearfulness)
  • Puppies attending puppy preschool found to be less fearful, less aggressive and more social
  • Poorly socialised dogs are also at risk of reduced welfare due to uncertainty as to what owners expect of them leading to confusion and stress and undesirable behaviours
  • Animals can only learn about things if they are introduced to them and may do so more readily during a sensitive period. If this period is missed, the dog may miss their chance to learn, or will take longer to learn
  • Many studies reporting that puppy socialisation classes reduce aggression, fearfulness and other bad behaviours although many other variable weren’t condiered suggesting puppy socialisation may just be one part of the puzzle
  • Other studies have reported that typical human homes provide enough stimuli to properly socialise dogs meaning puppy classes are not necessary
  • Another study has reported that socialisation classes may not be run by people with adequate knowledge and experience and may be too stressful for puppies. Mild stress is a component of socialisation but too much stress will not produce the benefits
  • Dog appeasing pheromone collars seen to help puppies become less fearful and better engage in positive interactions with other puppies, with owners reporting better socialisation 12 months after the class
  • It is common for dogs to be left alone for extended period without social contact and still be expected to remain calm and well behaved, which is clearly unreasonable, therefore owners are the ultimate determinant of behaviour
  • Owners with less knowledge on species-appropriate behaviours and behaviour modification techniques that do not provide adequate socialisation practices are more likely to have dogs with behavioural problems
  • Poorly socialised dogs are often relinquished to animal shelters with approximately 30% of dogs that enter becoming euthanised (some kill rates s high as 68%)
  • Owners seen to have unrealistic behavioural expectations of their dogs as they see being fully house-trained and obedient as highly desirable characteristics but fail to rate trainability, suggesting owners expect such desirable characteristics when dog hasn’t undergone correct socialisation to allow it to be trainable and thus achieve these characteristics
  • Breeds, owners and veterinarians play important role in socialisation. Breeders must expose puppies during the first 8-12 weeks to provide enough stimuli to prepare them for the rest of their lives. Owners must continue this through varied experiences while veterinarians should be a major outlet for educating owners on socialisation practices

Evaluation of Association Between Retention in the Home and Attendance at Puppy Socialisation Classes

Reference = Duxbury, M.M. et al. (2003) Evaluation of Association Between Retention in the Home and Attendance at Puppy Socialization Classes. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 223(1): 61-65.

  • Higher retention in homes of dogs that participated in puppy socialisation classes, were female, wore head collars as puppies, were handled frequently as puppies, were more responsive to commands, slept on or near the owners bed, or lived in homes without young children
  • Suggesting that enrolling 7-12 week old puppies in early learning and socialisation classes may enhance likeliness of retention in the home
  • Millions of healthy dogs are euthanised every year after being relinquished by their owners
  • Dogs under 2 years old comprised highest percentage of relinquished dogs within 12 animal shelters in the US
  • Puppy socialisation classes introduce puppies to a variety of smells, sights, sounds, surfaces, equipment and interactions in a safe way in an attempt to ensure adequate socialisation
  • Behaviour problems are among the most prevalent reasons for relinquishment of dog
  • 94% of owners receiving helpful advice on pet behaviour were at lower risk of relinquishing their pet than owners receiving advice that wasn’t helpful (Patronek et al., 1996)
  • Owner education was a major component of the socialisation classes involved. Verbal and written information regarding development and learning was provided. Owners were taught socialisation procedures to achieve comfortable interactions with other puppies, children, women and men and to accept frequent handling of all parts of their dogs bodies
  • The socialisation period is a sensitive period of development when puppies more readily squire behaviours that define their future abilities to form relationships with people and other animals
  • Generally accepted that the period between birth and 13-16 weeks are important for developing social abilities in dogs
  • Early socialisation does not guarantee the absence of future behaviour problems because of individual genotype candy environmental effects that are also influential on behaviour
  • Dogs wearing head collars significantly more likely to be retained in the home than those that did not wear one. Possibly due to the effective and humane means of controlling dog, giving owners more confidence and resulting in less frustration as puppies may learn desired behaviour better under these more controlled circumstances
  • Dogs sleeping on or near owners bed more likely to be retained possibly through promoting bonding from being in such close proximity. This is consistent with other studies that have found no relationship between behaviour problems and dogs sleeping on owners bed
  • Dogs more likely to be relinquished in homes with young children, likely due to unrealistic behaviour expectations. Children compete for affection leading to increased responsibility of adults to manage and not expect puppies to simply cope. Behaviour of children can also be alarming to dogs
  • Need to educate owners that dogs may not always be compatible with children therefore great effort is likely needed to integrate a dog into the home

Importance of Bringing Dogs in Contact With Children During Their Socialisation Period for Better Behaviour

Reference = Arai, S., Ohtani, N. & Ohta, M. (2011) Importance of Bringing Dogs in Contact With Children During Their Socialization Period for a better Behaviour. J. Vet. Med. Sci., 73(6): 747-752.

  • Some dogs can have difficulty getting on with children
  • Dogs that had been in contact with children during socialisation period (3-12 weeks) did not show aggressive or excited behaviour towards children in the test, and their heart rates remained relatively low compared with dogs in contact with children after the socialisation period and dogs that had seldom contact with children
  • Dogs that had been in contact with children in socialisation period had relatively low heart rates when children were instructed to run around and shout the dogs name (which was set as the strongest possible situation), suggesting the dogs were emotionally relaxed
  • Dogs not familiar with children presented aggressive, excited or escape behaviour when the child was active. The quick movements are likely to induce predatory aggressive behaviour and guarded or fearful behaviour, meaning children should be taught not to run around dogs to help establish good relationships
  • Development of the biological value judgment mechanism begins during the socialisation period. This means puppies approach unknown stimuli with less wariness or fear allowing them to adapt to several environments that are then memorised