Canis ISSN: 2398-2942

Puppy socialization

Contributor(s): David Appleby,


  • The early psychological development of puppies is of concern to the veterinary profession because inadequate socialization and habituation can result in behavior problems related to fear and some types of aggression, the consequences of which can compromise the welfare of the animals in their care.

Definition of socialization and habituation


  • The process whereby an animal learns how to recognize and interact with the species with which it cohabits.
  • Socialization is normally limited to the animal's own species in the wild but for the domestic dog it includes other species with which it cohabits, such as human and feline.
  • Learning that these, in all their variations of appearance and behavior, are normal reduces the potential for the development of fear and aggression motivated by fear Aggression: fear.
  • Through interaction the socialized dog develops communication skills that enable it to convey intention and recognize and how to respond to the intentions of others.


  • The process whereby an animal becomes accustomed to benign environmental stimuli and learns to ignore them.


The sensitive period

  • During the sensitive period experiences have a greater effect on the development of canine temperament and behavior than those that occur in later life.
  • The timing of the sensitive period is genetically determined but environmental factors can cause it to vary.
  • Its start is contiguous with maturation of the nervous system and the onset of full sensory perception and mobility at 2½ -3 weeks and lasts until 12 to 14 weeks.
  • During the sensitive period puppies are at their most able to accept the presence of novel stimuli but after five weeks an unwillingness to approach starts to develop.
  • Exposure to a broad range of benign stimuli in this period is important for the realization of the puppy's genetic potential for confident behavior.
  • Obtaining puppies from domestic environments, rather than environments with less stimulation, such as barns, isolated rooms and kennels, prior to eight weeks of age and exposing them to busy urban environments before the end of the socialization period is indicated as the best procedure for avoiding problem behaviors related to fearfulness and aggression towards people.
  • The absence of experience and social referencing can result in abnormal behavior and the development of behavior problems in later life.
  • Puppies raised in a non-domestic maternal environment are more likely to be referred to a behavior counsellor for aggression towards veterinary surgeons than puppies that experience a domestic maternal environment.
  • Although the sensitive period is important for the development of confidence ongoing exposure to a broad range of benign stimuli until social maturity is also necessary to prevent the development of fearful behavior.


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Vaccination programs and behavioral development

Avoiding separation problems

Experience away from the owners home prior to the completion of vaccinations

The owner's role after completion of vaccination

Further Reading


Refereed papers
  • Recent references fromPubMed.
  • Appleby D L, Bradshaw J W S, Casey R A (2002)Relationship between aggressive and avoidance behaviour by dogs and their experience in the first six months of life. Vet Rec150(14), 434-438.
  • Markwell P J, & Thorne C J (1987)Early behavioural development of dogs. JSAP28,984-991.
  • Bateson P (1979)How do Sensitive Periods Arise and what are they for. Animal Behaviour27, 470-486.
  • Fox M W & Stelzner D (1967)Effects of early experiences in the dog. Animal Behaviour15, 377-386.
  • Fox M W & Stelzner D (1966a)Approach/withdrawal variables in the development of social behaviour in the dog. Animal Behaviour14, 362-366.
  • Fox M W & Stelzner D (1966)Behavioural effects of differential early experience in the dog. Animal Behaviour14, 273-281.
  • Freeedman D G, King J A & Elliot O (1961)Critical period in the social development of dogsScience133, 10161017.

Other sources of information

  • Appleby D L (1997)Aint Misbehavin.Broadcast Books. Bristol, UK.
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  • Overall, K L (1997)Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals.Mosby. St. Louis. Missouri.
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  • Bailey G (1995)The Perfect Puppy.Hamlyn. London, UK.
  • McCune S, McPherson, J A, & Bradshaw, J S W (1995)Avoiding problems: the importance of socialisation.In: The Waltham Book of Human-Animal Interaction: Benefits and responsibilities of pet ownership.Ed Robinson I. Pergamon, pp 71-86.
  • Serpell J A, & Jagoe A (1995)Early experience and the development of behaviour. In: Ed Serpell J A The Domestic Dog; Its Evolution, Behaviour and Interactions With People.Cambridge University Press. pp 80-102.
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  • Freeman D (1991)Barking up the Right Tree.Ringpress Books. Letchworth, Herts, UK.
  • Bateson P (1981)Control of sensitivity to the environment during development. In: Behavioural Development.Ed. K Immelmann, G W Barlow, L Petrovich & M Main. Cambridge University Press. pp 432-453.
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