An excerpt from a full research study: Effects of Early Social Stimuli on Adult Temperament in Dogs (Canis famil­iaris)

There have been numer­ous stud­ies on a vari­ety of species inves­ti­gat­ing the pos­i­tive affect of ear­ly social­iza­tion and expo­sure to nov­el stim­uli, and their impact on devel­op­ment (Hebb, 2003; Hubrecht, 1995; Fox, 1971).  In dogs, this high­ly sen­si­tive social learn­ing stage has been found to fall between the ages of 7–14 weeks  (Battaglia, 2009).   Pups that remain in the breeder’s facil­i­ty dur­ing this stage need to be active­ly social­ized with oth­er breeds of dogs and places.   This peri­od also coin­cides with the age when many pups are moved to their new homes, rais­ing the poten­tial for behav­ioral issues if not han­dled appro­pri­ate­ly.   Classes and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als deliv­ered dur­ing this peri­od from the breed­er, Veterinarians and pro­fes­sion­als can help ease this tran­si­tion (Gazzano, 2008).

The pre­dis­po­si­tion to a par­tic­u­lar tem­pera­ment type in dogs is con­sid­ered to be inborn, (Slabbert, 1999; Svartberg & Bjorn, 2002), which can run the spec­trum from a con­fi­dent and pro-social atti­tude to one pre­dom­i­nat­ed by anx­i­ety and neu­ro­sis (Coren, 1999).   Research sup­ports the con­cept that there is a strong inter-relation of dis­po­si­tion, envi­ron­ment and learn­ing stages that work to pro­duce the mature ani­mal.  In the case of dogs, an anx­ious tem­pera­ment may man­i­fest itself in acts of aggres­sion towards peo­ple or ani­mals, which increas­es the risk of sur­ren­der.   Working with a young, devel­op­ing pup­py with gen­tle expo­sure to many dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences in the peri­od of 5- 14 weeks has been shown to be an effec­tive and pro-active method to pre­vent behav­iour­al prob­lems.   Positive ear­ly expe­ri­ences can have a pro­tec­tive effect on the adult ani­mal.   It is not pos­si­ble to ful­ly recre­ate this impor­tant effect after 16 weeks of age.

Research com­plet­ed by Fox (2010) sug­gests that the ear­ly learn­ing peri­od is a cru­cial fac­tor in the devel­op­ment of brain archi­tec­ture, which pro­vides for prop­er pro­cess­ing of nov­el stim­uli and a reduc­tion of stress behav­iours.  Without this expo­sure, the dog does not have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to build suf­fi­cient cop­ing mech­a­nisms, which can trans­late to fear or aggres­sion in the adult ani­mal.  Animals that receive for­mal social­iza­tion class­es dur­ing this stage have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to build a wide range of pos­i­tive asso­ci­a­tions (Seskel, 1997) and thus are far more pre­pared to con­fi­dent­ly han­dle real world situations.

Since 2008, the AVSAB has approved of the out­side social­iza­tion of young pups from as ear­ly as 10 days after receiv­ing their first set of shots and going to their new home. The mater­nal anti­bod­ies present and the effect of the first shots pro­vide suf­fi­cient pro­tec­tion for such expe­ri­ences as going out for a walk, or going to pup­py social­iza­tion class­es in accred­it­ed facil­i­ties.   Research demon­strates that under-socialized ani­mals expe­ri­ence dif­fi­cul­ty in accept­ing nov­el stim­uli with con­fi­dence, with poten­tial­ly long-term effects on their inter­pre­ta­tion of com­mon world expe­ri­ences, such as strangers, bikes, trucks and oth­er dogs (McMillan, Duffy, Serpell, 2011; Battaglia, 2009).

Studies sup­port the con­cept that through class par­tic­i­pa­tion, a reduc­tion of aggres­sion in dogs and increased reten­tion in the home can be achieved (Casey, Loftus, Bolster, Richards & Blackwell, 2014; Duxbury, Jackson, Line & Anderson 2003).  There is a great deal of sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence sup­port­ing the idea that social expo­sure in sen­si­tive stages trans­lates to min­i­mized unwant­ed behav­iour­al issues, par­tic­u­lar­ly anx­i­ety induced ones.  Introduction of a height­ened pro­gram of ear­ly social­iza­tion dur­ing the fear onset stage of 7 – 14 weeks has been shown to pro­mote improved inter­ac­tion skills with both peo­ple and oth­er dogs (Duxbury et al (2003).

While for­mal train­ing class­es are gen­er­al­ly deemed a pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence (Duxbury et al, 2003), all class­es are not based on the same learn­ing prin­ci­ples, or qual­i­ty of instruc­tion.  Classes that are over­crowd­ed, or employ aver­sive tech­niques can poten­tial­ly have a high­ly neg­a­tive affect on an animal’s per­cep­tion of social are­nas.   Owners need to ful­ly inves­ti­gate local train­ing facil­i­ties to deter­mine their meth­ods in advance.  A well-versed own­er can also pro­vide their pet the same lev­el of expo­sure and pos­i­tive train­ing meth­ods, while not enrolling in a for­mal class.

It is so impor­tant for breed­ers to start the expo­sure process while the pups are still with them, from as ear­ly as 3 weeks of age.  Information on gen­tle expo­sure should be pro­vid­ed new own­ers, in order to help with impor­tant tran­si­tion peri­od.  Reducing stress of the move can also be achieved through the use of Adaptil col­lars in the first month in the new home, and by send­ing home an item with the famil­iar scent of the litter.


Share This