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Local Woof: The Importance of Early Puppy Socialization

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The Local Woof is a column that’s sponsored and written by the staff of Woofs! Dog Training Center. Woofs! has full-service dog training, boarding, and daycare facilities, near Shirlington and Ballston.

Nine weeks ago, on April 1st, our foster dog Harlie gave birth to 11 tiny puppies. WOOFS! has fostered many pregnant moms and their puppies over the past 13 years, but this time we decided to do something different. We assigned each puppy a WOOFS! trainer. Each trainer was responsible for their pups early socialization and training. The results of these efforts were displayed at the Puppy Olympics on June 3rd.

We did this for one reason only: the importance of early socialization. The most important time in a dog’s life is between 3 and 16 weeks of age. This is known as a puppy’s critical socialization period. During this time a puppy’s brain is very plastic and is programmed to be open and accepting of new experiences. After this period a puppy’s brain changes and is programmed to be much more wary of new things. This means that it is critical to expose a young puppy to as many positive experiences as possible before the age of 3 to 4 months. Since most of this time passes before the puppy gets into their new home, it is critical that the caretaker of young puppies has a robust socialization plan.

So what did we do? We wanted to show what puppies under 10 weeks of age were capable of learning. These puppies were taught many things. We taught them basic sits and downs and we started them on crate training. We exposed them to new places, people, animals and experiences. Some of them went to softball games. Some went to different vet offices. Some were exposed to puppy agility equipment and some have played with children.

WHAT they did does not matter. The fact that they did THINGS is what was important. A puppy that has many interesting experiences during this critical time will be more likely to adapt to new experiences throughout their lives. Perhaps this reduces anxiety? A puppy that learns that training is fun and rewarding is likely to be a lifetime learner. Perhaps becoming very well trained? A puppy who thinks new people are awesome might be less likely to ever bite someone. The bottom line is that early socialization gives the puppy the best possible chance at a long and happy life.

When you get a new puppy, ask you breeder or foster what their early socialization plan was. Create your own socialization plan for when your new pup arrives home. You can download a plan and get more information about early socialization from Operation Socialization.

You can also view what we did with puppies on our Puppy Olympics Facebook group.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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