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What is Socialization?

By: Suzanne Clothier   Date: 07/27/2016

Socialization is how your pup learns about the world. While you will do many important things as you raise this puppy, socialization is a critical skill.

Critical skills (socialization, housebreaking, bite inhibition, basic training) are key to your pup’s development into a balanced, confident and secure dog who is a pleasure to live with and train.  

There are specific time frames in a puppy’s life when his brain is most receptive to new experiences. These receptive periods are known as “critical” and “sensitive” periods.” What happens to the pup during these periods can heavily impact his development.

There are important differences between critical and sensitive periods:

CRITICAL PERIOD – Certain stimuli or experiences must occur during this period or normal development is not possible. Possible permanent problems.
SENSITIVE PERIOD – Animal is extremely sensitive to experiences, good or bad.

Sometimes, you will hear the sensitive period from 8-16 weeks called the “fear period.” This is wrong. Stable pups who have been raised in an enriched environment do not automatically become fearful just because they enter this age.

There is some truth here: 2-4 month old pups are naturally (and sensibly) afraid of what is novel, new, and unfamiliar. This is a sensible response that helps young animals learn what to avoid and what is safe. 

And this is why it is so important that their environment and activities prior to 8 weeks contains a wealth of experiences and objects – all of that combines to build their “Reference Library” of things they know about, so that new variations are not alarming or scary to them.

Socialization provides the pup with many pleasant experiences with varied aspects of the world.  If a pup has not seen something before 16 weeks of age, it may be very frightening to them when they are older.

From birth to 16 weeks, the foundation is set for the rest of the pup’s life.  What he learns before he is 16 weeks old will affect him forever. A knowledgeable breeder or caretaker for a litter provides a good start that helps the puppy sail into the rest of his life with eagerness and joy. 

The new home has the responsibility to continue to build on that foundation. While this takes some effort, time and thought, the pay offs are immense for your pup and for you – this strong start will carry him through life with confidence, enjoyment in his relationships, physical skills, and an understanding of the world.

Learn more at

© Copyright 2010 Suzanne Clothier. All rights reserved. Used by permission for

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About The Author

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Suzanne Clothier - Trainer, Author and Breeder
Suzanne Clothier is a trainer, author and breeder. In addition to teaching seminars through the US and internationally on a variety of topics from The Enriched Puppy to temperament assessment, she serves as a consultant to service dog organizations. Her Relationship Centered Training approach offers humane, effective and fun training that supports healthy dog/human relationships.…

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