You brought home a new puppy and are reading about how a puppy’s critical socialization window starts closing at 16 weeks (or sooner). But your puppy is over 4 months old? Now what? Don’t panic. I’m going to go over socializing your puppy who is older than 4 months.
During the first 16 weeks of your puppy’s life is when she is most curious about the world. They don’t have a lot of fear and forge forward to check out all the world has to offer. Of course, there will be things which will cause a puppy to pause, be uncertain, and hesitate. It doesn’t mean she won’t come across things that won’t frighten her. BUT, the first 16 weeks is when your puppy is more curious and looking at everything with eyes wide open.
Once your puppy reaches 16 weeks, the critical socialization window is closing/closed. They go from exploring things with eager curiosity to being more cautious.
Socialization is for life. Even if someone brings their puppy home at 8 weeks, 10 weeks, or 12 weeks, it doesn’t mean the task of socializing their puppy is over once their puppy hits 16 weeks. This is not a time to sit back in the recliner, put our feet up, and breathe a sigh of relief, and cross “socialize my puppy” off of the to-do list.
Socialization is not only about creating positive associations with new experiences. Socialization is also about repeated exposures. We can’t just take our puppy to a park and think she has been socialized to children because she saw a group of kids playing on the playground, one day. It’s important to continue working on socialization the whole first year of your puppy’s life- and beyond. That doesn’t mean you have to be as diligent with your 4-year-old dog. You won’t be following a puppy socialization plan for your adult dog. Your puppy, however, will be going through a lot of changes during the first year of their life as they go from puppyhood to teenager. The first year is when puppy parents have their most work to do.
Once your puppy reaches 4 months, “socialization” is a little different. This is where you want to watch your puppy and identify areas of concern and work on modifying and helping your puppy with things they might start being cautious about, shy away from, or flat out are becoming afraid of.
Read more about what Puppy Socialization is and isn’t.
What to do if your puppy is unsure of frightened of something new:
- Use high value treats to help change the emotional response from a negative to a positive
- Go at your puppy’s pace- don’t force your puppy to interact with whatever is causing them concern
- Find the distance your puppy can notice the “scary thing” without panicking
- Train in short sessions as to not overwhelm your puppy with the “scary thing”
- Make sure your timing is right when pairing high value rewards with “scary things”
If your puppy is frightened or unsure of something, it is very important that you don’t force your puppy to interact with whatever it is that is causing them to feel this way. If your puppy is growling, backing away, lowering their tail, trying to avoid something, or displaying any other signs of being uncomfortable, immediately remove your puppy from the situation. Forcing your puppy to interact with what is causing them concern can create a bigger, negative association and possible behavior fallout.
Whether you brought home your puppy at 8, 10, or 12 weeks old or didn’t bring your puppy home until 6, 7, or 8 months old, you will still want to continue to give your puppy positive life experiences to help create a confident adult dog. Just because your puppy’s critical socialization window has closed doesn’t mean you are done helping them acclimate to different things the world has to offer.
Are you becoming frustrated with your puppy’s behavior as they get older? Were you hoping they would grow out of some of those undesired behaviors? Please help get me and my puppy on the right track. I’d like to schedule my free Zoom Discovery Session to talk about how you can help and my puppy.