Continuing with the series of articles about the stages of a dog's life, today we are going to talk about two other stages. The Socialization stage, and the Juvenile Stage.
The socialization period can be considered the most important moment in the animal's life, because it coincides with the period of removal from the nest and with the reinforcements (positive a
nd/or negative) that this puppy will receive.
This period extends from week 3 to week 12. It is here that the puppy develops the foundation for its outer-world temperament.
An important parenthesis is in order here to discuss the question that many people ask me: “WHAT IS THE BEST AGE TO SEPARATE A DOG FROM THE LITTER?”
Sadly, I've seen puppies being separated from the litter as young as four or even five weeks old which is completely wrong!
Puppies should never be separated at such a young age from the mother and from the siblings. Playing and interacting with their little brothers and sisters is essential for good mental balance development, and not becoming a fearful and shy adult dog, which can lead to severe behavioral problems in adulthood.
The ideal would be to separate the puppy at 10 weeks old, or two and a half months. However, there are two problems here.
The first is with respect to the breeders. Keeping a puppy for a long time is a high cost for them. Food, vaccinations, staff working in the kennels. All of this costs money, and for the breeder, the faster they send the puppy to the new family, the better for them.
The second problem is regarding the future owners. There is a wrong idea that a dog that is two and a half months old is already “too old”.
“I want a very young puppy”, is what I have heard from some clients. It's just the opposite! Waiting a little longer to take the puppy home will be much better for the new owner, as the dog will not cry as much and will adapt more quickly to the new environment and family.
There is a smart way to solve these problems. I call it “The 8 Week Rule”.
An 8-week-old puppy is not yet fully prepared to go home, but he is not that young either, and by adjusting a correct environment and routine for the puppy's arrival at home, it is entirely possible to separate the puppy from the litter at this age adapting him to the new environment with no problems.
Some breeders allow the family to visit the puppy all week long when they are still very young, without taking them home. This makes the puppy get used to the members of the family who are always visiting him, and when he reaches 8 weeks of age, he will be ready to go home already familiar with everybody.
It is important to remember that the socialization period is the time when the puppy is most sensitive to changes around him. So be careful when you expose him to some stressors.
The idea of taking a 10-week-old puppy around to “socialize”, is wrong! This is the phase where the puppy is dealing with many changes such as leaving the litter to live in the new house with only humans around him. Socialization with the outside world will take place in the next stage.
The Juvenile stage begins at 12 weeks of life and extends to the period we call Sexual Maturity.
Sexual maturity basically is when an individual can procreate. In dogs, this period happens on average between 6 and 9 months of age.
It is very important to remember that being sexually mature does not mean that the individual is already an adult, or a mature individual. To draw a correlation, think of a human being who reaches sexual maturity at the age of 12. Can this teenager already be considered an adult just because her body is already capable of procreating and having babies? Of course not! In the dog world it works the same way.
Within the juvenile period, we have a window that we call “CRITICAL WINDOW OF SOCIALIZATION”. This window starts at 12 weeks of age and lasts until approximately 16 weeks of age.
This is the moment when the dog becomes less sensitive, and in theory, is ready for interactions around the world. It is the extra-family social period. This is the time to start going to parks, walking, and meeting other dogs.
In theory, following the socialization stages with correct mental exercises, the young dog will be well balanced and ready for this kind of interaction.
In the next article we will talk about the three remaining periods of a dog's life. Adolescence, adult, and senior stages.
Marco Magiolo is a bestselling author, trainer, and speaker. Connect with Marco on social media and subscribe to future newsletters and updates.