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Discussing the significance of puppy socialization with clients
Educating pet owners can help prevent behavioral issues down the line
Giving a puppy proper socialization can be crucial for their development and later life. Brie Blakeman, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, founder/behavior consultant at Noble Woof Dog Training in Oregon, explained the reasons puppy socialization can be so important for overall safe behavior, during her lecture1 at the Western Veterinary Conference (WVC) in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Starting at a young age, puppies can learn what is safe and not safe with interactions with humans and other animals. Blakeman explained that the risks of inadequate socialization can be undesirable behaviors or fears, a damaged bond with their person, and in severe cases, potentially rehoming or euthanasia.1 Blakeman’s advice on preventing these risks include encouraging veterinary professionals to educate and communicate these lessons to clients with new puppies.
Blakeman began her presentation by defining socialization and why it matters in veterinary medicine. “Behavior is the main cause for euthanasia in dogs under 3 years of age,” she said. That is why starting at a young age is crucial as puppy development has a sensitive period for socialization in 3-12 weeks of age,2 but behavioral markers are usually preferred since this period can vary across breeds. Giving a puppy adequate socialization during this period is necessary for them to prevent unwanted behaviors like fearfulness, anxiety, and aggression and these behaviors are not easily modified after this early development period.
However, it’s important to remember not to overwhelm a puppy and Blakeman stated that quality over quantity is key for socialization. Dog parks pose several dangers, but in terms of socialization, they can also cause flooding. Blakeman recommended slowly integrating socialization and checking in to make sure the puppy is still comfortable to avoid the dog from becoming reactive to aggressive towards certain triggers. “We really want to become well acquainted with subtle signs of stress from our dogs so that we can really communicate that to clients,” she said.
“Veterinarians are in a unique position to decrease this gap of socialization due to their education and training,” Blakeman stated. To prevent unwanted behavioral issues from a lack of proper socialization, Blakeman recommended dedicating 10 to 15 minutes in a puppy’s first appointment to discussion this with the owners. Giving clients resources to refer to can be helpful as well, including written handouts and recommendations for local trainers.
"It is important to note that the sensitive period of socialization starts as early as 3 weeks of age, with the onset of avoidance behaviors getting strongest around 8 weeks, which is when those puppies are adopted into their new homes. Socialization, therefore, needs to be started before this transition into their new home. Together we can educate breeders and shelter staff as well, not just the clients and patients that come into your office,” she said.
Blakeman also suggested that veterinary clinics can start positive socialization and exposure by making the in-office visit low-stress and including positive associations with the place.
- Blakeman B. Integrating Puppy Socialization into Veterinary Practice. Presented at: Western Veterinary Conference; Las Vegas, Nevada. February 18-23, 2023.
- Freedman DG, King JA, Elliot O. Critical period in the social development of dogs. Science. 1961;133(3457):1016-1017. doi:10.1126/science.133.3457.1016