When does socialization begin?
The socialization process for German Shepherd puppies begins the day they are born! An educated breeder will have plan for daily neonatal handling of the litter, and by eight weeks of age, Dr. Ian Dunbar recommends that puppies have been handled by at least 100 people!
You must continue to socialize your puppy after you bring him home. The window for a dog’s socialization to people continues until 16 weeks (four months) or so. During this time, it is essential that your puppy be carefully introduced to a variety of people, objects and experiences. It’s your job to make sure your German Shepherd grows into a reliable, friendly adult dog, instead of a growling, quivering mess.
How old should your puppy be when you bring her home?
German shepherd puppies should stay with the breeder until at least 7 or 8 weeks of age.
If your breeder is keeping the puppies longer, he or she must pick up where the owner would normally take over in terms of socialization and training. Keeping puppies beyond 7 or 8 weeks and not doing the critical work of early socialization and training may be more damaging than letting them go too soon.
The fear period
Puppies go through a fearful stage between 9-12 weeks (sometimes earlier or later, depending on the individual). During this time, it’s important that you give your puppy plenty of time and space to explore unfamiliar objects, people and places on his own. Don’t force him into anything!
It’s also important during this time not to expose your puppy to trauma. Avoid any restraint that could upset your pup, people who might scare or harm the puppy, and strange dogs whose behavior with young puppies is unknown.
How do I socialize my GSD puppy?
One of our favorite socialization programs is Operation Socialization. Operation Socialization offers a complete program for socializing your new puppy. The program includes a list of participating local businesses, where available.
Here is a short checklist of exercises to complete with your young German Shepherd:
- Voluntary approach of children of all ages (at least 30 different kids offering treats)
- Voluntary approach to men (at least 30 different men offering treats)
- Voluntary approach to women (at least 30 different women offering treats)
- Voluntary approach to people in wheelchairs, using canes or other walking equipment, in unusual dress, etc. (at least 10 different people offering treats)
- Regular car rides (at least once per week to somewhere other than the vet’s office)
- Resource guarding prevention training
- Handling exercises (at least three times per week)
- Exposure to a variety of surfaces (grass, concrete, wood floors, tile floors, carpet, etc.)
- Exposure to livestock at a safe distance
- Play (with frequent breaks) with other puppies and adult dogs known to be safe with puppies.
- Crate training
When is socialization finished?
Experts agree that the socialization window for puppies is fairly short, and begins to close around 15 weeks. But sensitive breeds such as German Shepherds need careful introductions to new people and places, and plenty of positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior, until 2-3 years of age.
Many breeds experience what is sometimes called a “second” fear period, between 6 and 12 months. This resembles the first fear period at 9-12 weeks, in that a bad experience could have lifelong repercussions for your dog. For example, an 8-month-old male German Shepherd with no history of problems at the veterinarian’s office was muzzled and forcibly restrained during a routine blood draw. He became so frightened that he emptied his anal glands. From then on and into old age, he would bark, growl and lunge at the veterinarian, and needed behavioral intervention during office visits.
What if I’m having trouble socializing my German shepherd puppy?
If your puppy frequently hides, growls at people or avoids new things, get professional help now. Don’t wait until your German shepherd is big enough to scare or hurt someone. We can prevent many of the behavior problems we see in adult dogs with early training and behavior modification.