Early Socialization Project

Welcome

The Early Socialization Project delivers an extensive socialization guideline for working dog puppies from birth to 12 weeks. This is a user friendly educational resource for working dog breeding programs and organisations aiming for confidence, handler focus, & stable psychological and physiological development in their puppies. Our goal is to provide a step-by-step guide to consistent and reliable results, and therefore give our working dog puppies the best chance of success in their future role.

The Early Socialization Project is a collaboration between the IWDR, Southeastern Guide Dogs, Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and Guide Dogs Queensland.

Why have an early socialization program?

The success of a dog to become a guide or service dog is influenced by their genetics and environment. A puppy’s early environment contains a critical socialization period in which the puppy creates generalizations as to what is considered safe and what is considered a threat. 

During this critical socialization period, it is important to appropriately expose puppies to different items they will encounter later on as a working dog such as surfaces, novel objects, body handling, noises, people etc. The goal for the socialization process is for all puppies to have positive interactions with the items above to form the same generalizations with slightly different items in the future. This will increase their confidence and prepare them for their futures as guide or service dogs.

What equipment do you need to begin an Early Socialization Program?

When beginning an early socialization program, many items can be found in the home. Here is a list if items that you can use from home that you may have around the house:

  • Radio or TV
  • Metal measuring cups
  • Pebbles in plasticware or tin can
  • Metal cookie trays
  • Textured rugs or matts
  • Old tires
  • Garden statues
  • Dolls or action figures
  • Vacuum
  • Umbrella
  • Round snow saucer
  • Vacuum
  • Skateboard

Here are some more examples of household items you could use for early socialization:

Biosecurity risks to address

While it is important to appropriately expose puppies to different places, objects, and people, it is equally as important to create biosecurity protocols to keep puppies protected and free of disease. When considering appropriate places for early socialization, it is best to keep puppies under 8 weeks old in the same rooms and play area they normally utilize. If puppies are taken to alternate areas, actions should be taken to reduce the puppies’ interaction with the environment. For example, placing a clean blanket on the ground under an x-pen or sanitizing the area beforehand. Socialization equipment and the utilized room should be cleaned and sanitized after each time use and between litters to prevent cross-contamination. For additional information concerning biosecurity, please view the Early Socialization Biosecurity Resource here.

Interested in beginning an early socialization program but need extra help?

Early socialization takes a small amount of time to do each day and provides a lifetime of benefit to puppies to prepare them for their futures as guide or service dogs. One of the first steps to beginning an early socialization program is to first train the kennel staff that oversees the daily care of the puppies to ensure consistency with the provided protocols and procedures.  A helpful way to engage staff is to explain how early socialization helps the puppies to prepare for their futures as guide or service dogs. The puppies that are sleeping in the whelping bed in front of them will someday change someone’s life and bring them independence and mobility. That’s why it is important to give them their best foundation to begin their journey through early socialization. 

Another very important training for staff is about canine body language. Any abnormal behavior in the kennel is as important to note as abnormal behavior during early socialization sessions. A record system i.e end of shift update can notify managers of abnormal behaviors to be addressed. Below are a few examples of behaviors to note and address: 

  • Demand barking
  • Fear reactions in the kennel, yard, bathing, etc.
  • Aggression or inappropriate play with littermates
  • Inappropriate mouthing 
  • Resource guarding

Once staff members are fully trained, they can help with early socialization. 

How to Use this Resource:

Navigate through each week as your litter grows. You will see the following symbols:

Each week, keep your primary goal in mind. Each interaction should be with this goal in mind.

As puppies grow, different environments can be utilized to provide safe socialization opportunities.

If your organization uses volunteers, we have some tips for safe and rewarding interactions – check out our volunteer training resources.

Biosecurity is of utmost importance for young puppies – some activities require more precautions than others.

Each week is divided into two major categories, which each contain activities that expose puppies to varying amounts, intensities and types of sound, surface, motion and novel objects dependent upon the puppy’s age and behavioral response.

  • Passive Environmental Enrichment include modifications to the puppy’s environment in order to expose the puppy to stimuli passively.
  • Interactive Activities offer guidelines for the appropriate handling and response to aid puppy socialization whilst also developing important working dog skills.

The content of this project falls under the Creative Commons license – CC BY-NC-ND.  Click Here for more information about this license.