A puppy's "critical period" between 8-12 weeks

Have you ever met a dog that is afraid of thunder? Or men? Or shiny floors? It's because the dog did not become exposed to these things during their "critical period" (8-12 weeks old). If you miss this critical period, it's extremely hard to accustom the older puppy or dog to these stimuli later (in general, they'll be afraid of everything they didn't experience during their critical period).

Socializing a puppy

According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, the "critical period" for puppies occurs between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks. During this time, puppies are highly receptive to new experiences and are most likely to form positive associations with other animals, people, and their environment. This is an important time for socialization and training, as puppies that do not receive adequate socialization during this period may develop behavioral issues later on. To help puppies become well-adjusted, confident adult dogs, it is critical during this 8-12 week period to puppies to a variety of:

  • New people (10 strangers per day). This is a lot, if they are not exposed to new people (especially men and children), they will not be comfortable around them later in life.
  • New environments. A good example is thunder. If the puppy is not exposed to loud noises (such as banging pots and pans extremely loudly to announce dinner), the adult dog will be afraid of loud noises like thunder or fireworks. A puppy who happens to be 8-12 weeks old during the thunderstorms of summer may be naturally exposed to these loud noises during their critical period, but a puppy who is 8-12 weeks old during fall, winter, or spring (when there isn't thunderstorms) will need to purposed be exposed to loud noises purposefully. 

What about fears about the young puppy being exposed to parvo? Yes, at 8 weeks, a puppy is not fully vaccinated against parvo, so it's important not to let them walk in public parks or areas that sick dogs could have contaminated. BUT--Dr. Dunbar feelsl that the benefits of socialization FAR outweigh the risks of parvo.