Giving Puppies Extra Socialization Is Beneficial for Them

A new study shows that varied experiences make significant positive differences.

Posted Dec 01, 2017

Extra socialization is icing on the cake for young dogs.

A few days ago, I learned from Dr. Zazie Todd about a new study by Helen Vaterlaws-Whiteside and Amandine Hartmann published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science called "Improving puppy behavior using a new standardized socialization program." It's an important project and the paper can be downloaded for free until December 15, 2017. Here's a concise summary that Dr. Todd provided that should be useful to all people who choose to share their homes and hearts with a dog. I hope the entire essay will be available sooner than later. 

Six litters of puppies who are part of the Guide Dogs for the Blind breeding program took part in the study. Half of the puppies in each of the six litters received extra socialization five days a week for the first six weeks of life that included activities such as interacting with people and animals and increased visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation. More specifically, "In the first week, it took 5 minutes per puppy per day, building up to 15 minutes per puppy per day in weeks 5-6. Examples of the extra socialization include stroking the puppy gently with the fingers, a towel, and rubber gloves; making a cell phone ring near the puppy; gently examining the puppy’s ears and teeth; and encouraging the puppy to do things like climb over an obstacle or come through a doorway. All of this was done in a way that was fun for the puppy and the researchers made sure the puppy was comfortable at all times."

Puppies were assessed when they were six weeks of age and when they were eight months old. All in all, the puppies who received extra socialization when compared to puppies who received regular socialization "got better scores in tests at 6 weeks old. By 8 months of age they were less likely to have separation-related behaviors, general anxiety, be distracted, or have body sensitivity." The researchers write, "the extra socialization brought important benefits for their behavioral welfare as young adult dogs. These results will be of particular interest to those who breed and train service dogs, but they are important for anyone who cares about dogs – especially those looking to get a puppy."

According to the researchers themselves, "The additional age-specific stimulation received by puppies given the extra socialization during this study provided increased physical contact, mental challenges and extensive positive interaction with people away from the litter. These stimuli could be considered to be mild stressors and may help explain the reduced anxiety and distraction-related behavior observed in the eight-month handler questionnaire.”

It's well known that being properly socialized to other dogs and to humans is essential for puppies. This period is called the sensitive period, and classic research by Drs. John Paul Scott and John Fuller showed that as little as two 20-minute periods of social contact a week was enough to produce socialized dogs

"More is better" so let's not hold back on giving puppies all we can.

The present study clearly shows that "more is better," and that puppies benefit from the extra socialization in terms of their resiliency and quality of life. Companion animals need much more than we often give them and they want and need much more than they usually get from us. The positive effects of extra socialization show that we can always do more for the dogs for whom we are caretakers, and it's a win-win for all. Numerous companion dogs are more highly stressed than we realize in a human-dominated world, and it's beneficial for them to develop as much resilience as possible as they try to adapt to our varying and busy lifestyles. 

I'm a fan of giving dogs and other animals all we can, and I hope the results of this study will be shared widely. There's nothing wrong with doing more for the nonhumans who depend on us for their very lives. We are their lifelines and why not give them the best lives possible. So, let's do all we can and then some, and even "get down and dirty" with our companions and show them that we really care about them and how much we love them and want them to enjoy themselves as much as possible in a human-dominated world. 

References

Vaterlaws-Whiteside, H., & Hartmann, A. (2017). Improving puppy behavior using a new standardized socialization program. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 197, 55-61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.08.003

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