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Why Socialization Before 21 Weeks is Critical

Updated: Jul 4, 2022

Most dog owners know that socialization is an extremely important part of raising a well-adjusted dog. However, many owners do not realize that the critical “socialization window” ends by the time a puppy reaches 21 weeks old.

So, what is socialization? Why does this important time of your puppy’s life end so early, and how can you take advantage of it? We’ll take a closer look at these important aspects of socialization so you can set your puppy up for success.

What is Socialization?

Most species have a socialization period, where they are especially sensitive to learning about their world. In dogs, this period starts around 3-5 weeks of age, and ends by the time a puppy is 21 weeks old.

During this time, puppies are learning all about things that are a normal part of their lives. It’s essentially a time for a puppy to discover what is safe and normal, and what is not. When a puppy isn’t exposed to enough people, places, or things during this time, they may find themselves facing more “new” things when they’re older.

Dogs, like many animals, often perceive new or “novel” items as something to be cautious of - it makes sense when you consider that animals being wary of new things is a way they protect themselves from anything dangerous.

However, in a human world with a variety of new things happening all throughout a dog’s life, it can lead to fear and fear-related behavior concerns when a dog is so worried about their environment.

Thus, it’s critical that puppies are exposed to a variety of people, places, and things at an early age to reduce the chances they suffer from fear and anxiety in the future, especially since behavior problems are the number one reason dogs are relinquished to shelters.

How To: Puppy Socialization

When you think about puppy socialization, the image of puppies playing together in a “Puppy Kindergarten” class often comes to mind. However, socialization is so much more than ensuring your puppy spends time playing with others.

Good socialization involves so much more than puppy playtime.

Simply put, good socialization involves exposing your puppy to anything they might experience during their lifetime, in a way where the puppy is safe and happy. It’s critical to avoid forcing the puppy into scary situations (aka “flooding”) because puppies go through fear periods at the same time they are experiencing their socialization period.

This means that your puppy should have positive experiences while observing a variety of people, places, and things. Set your puppy up for success by keeping them feeling safe and feeding them delicious treats to make the event a good one!

A shortlist of things to consider socializing your puppy to includes:

- Calm and dog-friendly adult dogs

- Calm children that can follow directions for handling the puppy safely

- Noises around the home, such as a hairdryer, blender, and vacuum

- Things that move, such as umbrellas, kid toys, bikes, and cars

- Other animals, such as cats, rabbits, and horses

- Places other than your home, such as a training facility, park, pet-friendly brewery, or vet clinic as safe for your puppy

- Types of surfaces, such as gravel, surfaces that move, and slippery floors

The list is truly endless! While it might seem overwhelming, the important thing is giving your puppy a variety of experiences (such as socialization to a few kinds of people, places, and things, rather than focusing on only meeting new people and dogs) and ensuring the experiences are safe and fun from the perspective of your puppy.

Socialization isn’t everything - genetics also play a role in dog behavior - but it’s one small thing you can do to truly help set your puppy up to be the best.

No matter the dog, no matter the problems, BFF Canine Obedience is here to save dogs by training dogs. Contact us today to set up a personal training plan for your best friend.

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