Meet Hank! Hank is an 8 week old Laborador Retriever who is lucky enough to be both enrolled in Puppy Class & taking private lessons. His owners are commited to having a well trained and socialized dog for their family. In my classes I have chosen to allow puppies 8 weeks and older with their first set of vaccinations. I personally feel that socialization is far more important than the small chance that your dog may contract an illness before being fully vaccinated, and so does the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Click here to view their position statement on puppy socialization.
When it comes to creating a well rounded canine companion, nothing beats good socialization. Training is obviously important as well, but socialization is the key to creating a dog that will not be fearful or reactive/aggressive towards people, dogs, objects & places. The main socialization window is from 6-16 weeks of age. During this time, your puppy is most open to new experiences. After that time, your dog becomes less and less open to new things and more set in his or her ways, so socialization becomes significantly more challenging. For this reason, early socialization is a must, so create as many positive socialization experiences for your dog as possible! Even though the main socialization window is short, that doesn’t mean you should stop socializing after 16 weeks. Continue socializing for the remainder of your dogs life to maintain their social skills. Imagine being locked away in the house without ANY direct human contact for months or years. It may become a little difficult to reintegrate into a normal social life.
Because this is a small window of opportunity, you may be feeling bummed out that you missed this window with your dog or should have socialized them more. Don’t worry, it is possible to continue socialization with an older dog, just a little more difficult so I would suggest that you work with a professional trainer to be sure you are using the right techniques. Many people think that just exposing the dog continuously to whatever makes them uncomfortable can solve the problem (desensitization). While this process can be useful, if done improperly it can actually create more harm than good.