Training Page

The Socialization Period and Process

Puppies are referred to as “neonates” during the first two weeks of life. They often sleep in a stacked heap and nurse frequently. Their eyes and ear canals are not opened. Mobility is limited as they are unable to do more than paddle with their legs and slide. Senses of smell and touch are more operational, which many scientists believe allow the puppies to maintain contact with their mother. 

Outside stimuli often cause reflexive reactions because the immature nervous system lacks myelin, the fatty sheathing that insulates the nerves and helps transmit signals. Stimulation of the anal and genital regions, done by the mother or surrogate, is needed in order for the neonates to urinate and defecate.

Written by: Donna Chandler 


Rather than the old-school handsoff theory, research now supports that limited handling of newborn puppies significantly accelerates their nervoussystem development. It also shows that these puppies become better problem solvers, more self-confident in competitive situations with other dogs, and more attracted to people.

Transitional Period

Major dramatic changes occur during the third and fourth weeks of age, called the transitional period. During this time, the puppy’s eyelids and ear canals open and the puppy now experiences many sounds and light variations. 

At first, the puppy’s vision is blurry because the optic nerve (the carrier of signals from the eyes to the brain) does not become fully developed until the fourth week of age. By the end of the transitional period puppies can stand, walk, and waddle together as a pack with littermates; play biting and socialization has begun. Earning a dog’s trust starts in the transitional period. 

Early Socialization 

“Faster than a speeding bullet” best describes a puppy’s sensory and motor abilities during the early socialization period, which occurs between the third and fourteenth weeks. Behaviors expand accordingly during this period. Puppies learn to run, as well as communicate vocally and with body postures. They gain control over their limbs, bowels, and bladders; they also begin to leave the crate/den to eliminate. 

Your puppy will also begin to show more interest in littermates than mom. Playing is critical in a puppy’s development and during this period they learn bite inhibition with littermates, as well as chasing, stalking, and wrestling, how to say, “I’m sorry,” and what does not offend others.


During socialization, puppies learn which behaviors are acceptable and how to get what they want, ideally from their mothers. However, when they are taken away from their mothers and littermates before they learn the rules, the new puppy owners have to teach bite inhibition. Studies have shown that many puppies deprived of human contact during the socialization period tend to withdraw from people when they mature. On the flip side, some puppies that lack human contact are so insecure they become very attached to their humans and experience separation anxiety when left alone. Whenever a breeder, pet store owner or staff, or new puppy owner is interacting with the puppy or puppies, they should always be training and teaching trust. Every touch and experience with the puppy will increase with habitual behavior as the puppy ages – training, training, training! 

4-6-8 Weeks of Age and Human Interaction and Teaching Trust. This also applies to newly acquired, older dogs/new rescue dogs. 

Always enter the kennel quietly: This includes kennel workers, all employees, breeders, and new owners. Quietly open doors (including kennel doors), turn on lights, fill food and water bowls, etc. If you are the kennel person that the puppy first sees in the morning, have the puppy’s food ready immediately when you open the crate/ kennel door. Always finish with a treat when you give medicines. Finishing the “taking medications” process with a treat teaches the puppy that something good comes from taking the medicine/pill. This is the beginning of teaching the puppy to trust humans. Teaching the puppy to associate all good things comes from humans is huge in earning the trust of any puppy – and really  any animal. 

The puppy should be handled by humans at least several times a day, more if time permits. Don’t interrupt the puppy when it is nursing or right after nursing as the puppy usually takes a nap. 


When the puppy is awake or just waking, remove it from its crate to a quiet place and follow these steps:

  1. Use an exercise pen or designated space to let the puppy walk around and explore to get some exercise.
  2. Next, pick up the puppy and repeat, softly saying, “Up” while you stand up with the puppy firmly in your arms in a horizontal position. Always be polite to your puppy or growing dog, and tell it “up” before you pick it up. Think about this: it would be rude if someone picked you up without telling you, or grabbed your shirt sleeve and started walking without saying, “Come with me.” Always be polite to your animals. This step also applies to newly acquired smallbreed older dogs.
  3. Talk to the puppy/older dog softly, telling it to “Calm” several times. As the puppy/older dog relaxes, you can relax your snug grip on the puppy. If the puppy is a large breed, you may have to sit on the floor so the puppy doesn’ t squi rm and fall.
  4. Have a chair with no arms in this area (or on the floor if needed with a large puppy or newly acquired medium/large breed) and sit down with the puppy still in your arms. If you have a medium/large breed dog, have the dog gently lay down on the floor while massaging the dog. Slowly the dog will relax and allow you to gently push him on his/ her side, all the while massaging the dog. Keep talking to the puppy/dog softly and telling it to “Calm” throughout this exercise. Slowly turn the puppy over and place the puppy between your legs with the head towards your abdomen (do not do this with the medium/large breed dog. Just leave the medium/large breed dog on the floor). Begin rubbing the puppy’s or medium/large breed dog’s belly, then ears and massage the top of its head—go slow. Then proceed to its legs and begin to massage the feet and eventually rubbing between the toes— watch for sharp fingernails.
  5. If the puppy/medium/large breed dog gets squirmy, turn the dog back over and repeat the process from the beginning (standing if needed).
  6. If the session did not go the way you wanted it to, do not get discouraged. Just try again later. You will be proud of yourself when you finally get the puppy to trust you and be calm when you handle him.
  7. By starting at four weeks and continuing through sixteen weeks, your puppy will be on its way to accepting humans and trusting. If you have an older dog, begin once he has been in the house for a couple of days (which is enough time for the dog to get accustomed to his new home).
  8. Canine breeders, rescue programs, and pet store owners need to show the new owners how to do this technique. Trust is huge in any relationship – even the one between people and dogs.

Critical Fear Periods

Puppies begin to explore with vengeance between three and five weeks of age. After five weeks, they begin to demonstrate fear of the unfamiliar. The two most critical defined fear periods for dogs are:

  • 1. The first/definite “Fear Period” is from eight to ten weeks of age.
  • 2. The second “Fear Period” will occur during a 2-3 week window, at some point between four and twelve months of age.
  • 3. Fear periods know no size or breed of dog, so the fear periods can come at the same time for a St. Bernard or a Chihuahua. There are no outward signs for either of the fear periods.
  • 4. Specifically, fear periods are the times when the fear part of the dog’s brain develops. If something frightening happens to the dog during these periods, it can manifest at a later date in the form of anxieties or other conflicts. Usually these fear periods occur before adulthood (which is approximately two years of age) or the juvenile period (which is between seven and eighteen months of age). Some can be triggered later in life as well. Examples include storm fears, obsessivecompulsive disorder (OCD with licking, fly snapping, chasing tails, bully behaviors, etc..), aggression toward certain type of people (men with hats, beards, mustaches, etc.), and separation anxiety. For dogs that don’t like little children, I would bet that the puppy was dropped, laid on, or somehow hurt by a child during a fear period. I’m not saying children cannot be involved with the puppy, but adult supervision must be present.

Juvenile Period 

The juvenile period lasts from seven to eighteen months (up to/until the dog reaches sexual maturity, which could be up to two years of age, depending on the breed). Whereas motor and social skills become more refined during the juvenile period, learning ability slows down. Training requires more time and a whole lot more patience. I tell my clients that a dog’s juvenile period is much like giving their 18-yearold son a Ferrari while telling him to go 30 mph; he knows the rules but has a hard time obeying them. Many behavioral changes that occur during the juvenile period are hormone-driven. Male dogs begin roaming, urine-marking and mounting anything handy; so unless the dog is going to be bred, having it neutered will cut down on these undesired behaviors. Female dogs with hormone (estrus) changes show relatively few hormone-related behavior changes. 

Breeders and Pet Store Owners Guidelines for Prospective Customers 

Always remember, it takes both a person’s heart and head to choose the right puppy. Your customers are not any different. However, they do not have your knowledge of how to choose a puppy that is perfect for their personality and/ or family. This is where your knowledge can play a big role in helping your customer make this choice. Prior to the customers meeting the puppy, talk with them about what they are looking for and their hobbies. Ask if someone in the household has allergies. Ask what they want to do with the puppy when it’s an adult. For example, does the family enjoy hiking, jogging, walking long distances, camping, or boating? If so, you might steer them away from choosing a Chihuahua. That said, I have seen people choose a toy breed which they can put them in a pouch and continue on their hike. Listen to your customer, but let your knowledge guide you. Also remember that nothing here is written in stone. Puppies that might be shy at the store or breeder’s house turn out to be outgoing and friendly when they become a part of a loving family. Active pups frequently settle down after being in their new home for a while. Training, socialization, and teaching trust are the keys to having the perfect lifelong canine companion.

Donna Chandler, Author, Canine Trainer, Behavior Specialist, Service Dogs (PTSD, Diabetic, Seizure & School Dogs)

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Office: 317-769-4649

Cell: 317-403-1125

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