Early Socialization - Week 4 - 21-28 Days

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Quick Reference Guide:

Increase variety & length in use of touch, textures, lights, sounds; build positive associations and confidence.

Puppy-proofed outdoor play pen, onsite field trips (such as carried into another room or building), intro to van, bath.

Volunteer Type:
Wide variety of demographics, for gentle handling


Rapid physical and behavioural development occurs this week. As pups become more mobile and extend their exploration of their den utilise this time to offer more variety and challenges for the pups. 

  • Body handling will offer more variety in items used. 
  • Massage continues to build up a positive human relationship as well as pups learning to cooperate with humans and not wiggle when being held or handled. 
  • Their sense of hearing is improving so this week gently build skills around hearing.  
  • Promote confidence and calm acceptance of unfamiliar environments 
  • Use a familiar handler if pup is taken briefly outside the den for 1 on 1 away from littermates. 

Why Teach This?

Adaptability is an important skill in working dogs. Teaching pups to accept daily changes in environment, handling and routine during this age group will help them generalise to any environment in their working life.  

Teaching pups to interact with their environment without overreacting is an important skill in producing sound working dogs. 

Teaching these skills during the early critical learning period will produce better results than introducing it after 12 weeks of age when pup is not as adaptable to changes. 

Increasing the pup’s repertoire of positive associations around new and novel objects and environments will result in resilient dogs.

PUP IS IN THE ENGAGED (GREEN) ZONE most of the time OR PUP IS IN THE CONFLICTED (YELLOW ZONE) briefly then moves back into the green zone once it has resolved the internal conflict:

  • Pups will happily explore the new environment 
  • Pups will play with littermates then fall asleep 
  • Pups will display no stress signals  or  if 1 or 2 stress signs (yawning, whining) but pup quickly resolves inner conflict without escalating to additional stress signals. Remember to look for an improvement in the pup’s confidence with each exposure to the stimuli. If the pup has displayed 2 or 3 stress signals, set pup up for success and aim for less next time by building the pup’s confidence.
  • Second exposure pups are accepting of longer durations 
  • Addition of familiar surfaces, massage and textures accepted without issue.
    • Pups still need large amounts of sleep. Do not over stimulate the pup. It cannot learn in this mode 

    • Utilise the natural curiosity of young pups when introducing new environments and build up positive association around change prior to the startle/fear stage that occurs later. 

    • Observe pup and adjust procedure appropriately so it is a positive learning experience. Each pup is worked as an individual and techniques are for this pup not the whole litter.

    • Early repeat exposure in different environments will add to pup’s confidence and ways to resolve inner conflict.

    • Keep it brief: Remember pups have short attention spans. A successful exposure may be only seconds long and an entire education session should be no more than 5 minutes.

    • Keep your objective in mind: Since puppies have short attention spans, it is important to focus on the task at hand. While it is very tempting to snuggle a puppy before working with them, this can take away from the puppy’s purposeful learning for the day as they are able to work for noticeably short periods of time

    • Give the puppy an “escape route”:  When an activity has gone on too long, is too overwhelming, or too challenging, a puppy needs a means to avoid it. If a puppy uses the escape route frequently, stop and seek assistance. Large objects, tunnels, gap behind crate can offer a pup a safe area to resolve their inner conflict.

During interactive activities, we continue to promote the puppy handler bond. Any time the pup choses to return its focus onto the handler reward this choice immediately with a smile, praise, petting or a food reward. 

Mix up the rewards so puppy has variety and keeps interested and wanting to bond and work with us. Remember to use a reward that the puppy sees as reinforcing for it. Some Golden Retrievers are not as food oriented as say a Labrador Retriever. Should food not be a strong motivator try a soft fluffy toy or hard rubber toy. The pups focus should be on the handler so lots of rewards for good choices. The frequency of food rewards can become intermittent then phased out when the pup is older. 

This week pups will learn that working with humans is fun and challenging.

Interactive activities are a way for us to expose puppies to new objects, sounds, surfaces and movement in the environments and to enable us to get feedback about how the pup responds. The information we collect helps give us to continue to build up a better picture of the puppy’s personality and how they cope with changes in environment, how inquisitive and confident they are and overall whether the puppy would be a good candidate as a guide or service dog.

Continue to promote remaining calm relaxed during body handling and massage as the building up of positive human relationships continues this week.

Items needed for Den this week – Variety is important to keep pups inquisitive and accepting of change

Toilet Box (To be used if needed by pups in between toilet breaks)
Ramp to concrete
Random Object 
Hanging Toys 
Activity Box
Hard Chew Toys

Problem Solving

  • Allow pup time to resolve inner conflict themselves 
  • Offer emotional support via voice and touch
  • Shorten duration of visit. If one pup displays distress signs (whining) the others will usually follow. Be prepared to move when all pups are quiet so as not to reinforce a negative behaviour (whining gets what I want) 
  • Engage with pup using favourite toy

Encourage mom to come near the puppies and interact with the items. If puppies continue to show stress signs, return puppies to their den with Mom and try a shorter amount of time next time.

  • Look at protocols used in handling.
  • Are pups touched prior to being lifted off ground for weighing?
  • Ensure all staff move pups slowly and absolutely no flying quickly through the air.
  • Ensure that the massage is no longer than 1 minute. Reduce time then slowly build up again.
  • Place another pup next to the pup being massaged for a familiar scent.
  • Use a small piece of whelping mat that has been left under puppies. Familiar scent will be on the massage whelping mat.

Stop and place hands around pup’s chest area. Do some gentle circular motion with your hands. Once pup is calm again you can resume the body handling.

It can help to go back to an area on the body that pup is comfortable being handled and try again.

Should pup still not be comfortable reduce the session times then build up again.

Try luring with slower, more deliberate movements. Make sure you have pup’s interest in the lure and maintain that connection. Practice moving your arm with a “mixing bowl” movement – wide, sweeping and steady.

Passive Environmental Enrichment

Passive exposure continues by exposing pups to a variety of surfaces, sounds, movement, objects in their crate and den environment.

Acceptance of change and difference can be achieved by placing 1 random object into the nest each day that the puppies have not been exposed to before (backpack, hat, purse, statue like objects). Observe and record each pup’s reaction to novel object.


Working dogs encounter a variety of sounds throughout their career. Some dogs may travel with their partner through busy cities while others may go to the Opera or loud concerts with their partner. With all of the different sounds a dog may encounter, we want our puppies to be comfortable and confident with many different sounds during their critical socialization period. During this week, we will focus on positive interactions with different sounds. 

Hand-held sounds items as well as interactive sound objects can be used during this activity. Below are age-appropriate examples for both hand-held objects as well as other sound items that puppies can interact directly with.

Goal: To allow puppies to explore multiple sound objects with a handler and to be comfortable with a variety of sounds. 

To prepare the designated space for this curriculum, please complete the following steps. 

  1.   Gather 5 noise objects and 2 handheld noise objects. Remember variety when selecting objects. 
  2.   Place the handheld noise objects on a nearby counter or out of puppies’ reach.  
  3.   Arrange the objects in a circle spread apart enough for the puppies and handler to move around comfortably. 

You are now ready to retrieve the litter of puppies you are working with. 

  1.   Allow the puppies to explore the room upon entering for up to 30 seconds. 
  2.   Use the hand-held noise objects when the puppies are playing and exploring the room. 
  3.   Encourage the puppies to explore each of the objects with you. 

4.    Continue around the circle in the same manner

It is important for working dogs to be comfortable with walking over different types of surfaces such as grates and uneven pavements. Puppies learn quickly that walking over bumpy and open surfaces is completely normal. 

It is important to have a variety of surfaces for the puppies to walk on so they do not grow accustomed to only walking over one particular surface. When selecting equipment, think of having different textures and materials.

Ensure you introduce a large variety of new people, start gradually to build up pup’s acceptance of difference. Demographics to cover include; young, elderly, male, female, toddlers, different ethnic groups


Working dogs must be accepting of a variety of novel objects they may encounter in the community; so, it is important that at an early age they begin to build their reference library of unusual items, including those that move, so that they are comfortable and confident with different novel objects. 

Novel Objects Protocol

Goal: To allow puppies to explore multiple novel objects with a handler and to be comfortable with novel objects.

To prepare your designated space for this activity, please complete the following steps.  

  1.   Gather 5 novel objects. Remember variety when selecting objects. 
  2.   Arrange the objects in a circle spread apart enough for the puppies and handler to move around comfortably.  

You are now ready to retrieve the litter of puppies you are working with. 

  1.   Allow the puppies to explore the room upon entering for up to a few minutes (consider needs of the puppies!). 
  2.    Invite the puppies to explore each of the objects with you. 
  3.   Continue around the circle in the same manner.

Goal: For the puppies to confidently explore each surface with a handler.  

  1.   Choose a variety of 5 surfaces. Items can be different heights, just be mindful of the puppy’s height, do not make it unsafe for the puppy.
  2.   Arrange the items in a circle with enough distance for the puppies to walk        comfortably around each item.

You are now ready to retrieve the litter of puppies you are working with. 

  1.   Allow the puppies to explore the room upon entering for up to 30 seconds.
  2.   Encourage the puppies to climb on or walk over all of the surfaces.  

3.    Continue around the circle in the same manner.

Working dogs need to be comfortable walking on unstable objects and comfortable with objects that move. It is important that puppies learn to be confident with walking on unstable objects and with moving objects.

Goal: To allow puppies to explore multiple motion objects with a handler and to be comfortable with walking on unstable objects and moving objects. 

To prepare the designated space for this activity, please complete the following steps. 

  1.   Gather 4-5 motion objects. Remember variety when selecting objects. 
  2.   Arrange the objects in a circle spread apart enough for the puppies and handler to move around comfortably. 

You are now ready to retrieve the litter of puppies you are working with. 

  1.   Allow the puppies to explore the room upon entering for up to 30 seconds. 
  2.   Encourage the puppies to explore each of the objects with you. 
  3.   Continue around the circle in the same manner.

Interactive Activities

  • Purposeful play with littermates exploring novel objects, sound objects, motion objects, and surfaces 
  • Puppies will develop positive experiences with body handling 
  • Puppies build positive associations with new objects and sounds  
  • Puppies build handler engagement

experiences around body handling, and puppies can build positive association with new objects and sounds.  Every interaction with the puppies continues the building of handler engagement. 

It is important to start to build a solid foundation of skills. Body Handing is ongoing and involves lots of practice. It can be done in short sessions throughout the day in order to set the pup up for success by keeping skill training fun and expectations consistent. Body handling is the process of teaching our puppies to accept all parts of their body being handled while remaining calm while we touch and move all parts of their body.
This is beneficial for health/Vet visits. These skills also help with body sensitivities to equipment the pup may need to wear such as boots or coat.

Remember, Body handling should be a calm, gentle process – it’s not a time for cuddles or play – that can come later! Take extra care around your pup’s teeth, ears and paws – these areas are crucial for Body Handling but many pups find the handling of these areas strange at first.

Start by Teaching the “Close” position:

  1. Start by crouching on the ground with the puppy in front of you, facing you. 
  2. Place your right knee on the ground – If pup is on a lead put the lead under your knee so both hands are free 3. Use your left hand to lure the pup from your right knee in a circle until they are between your legs facing away from you 
  3. Tilt your lure back over the pup’s head so they go into a sit 
  4. Mark and pay 
  5. Put your knee down so you are kneeling with pup sitting between your legs and place your two hands on the pup’s chest 
  6. Repeat steps 1-6 until pup is quickly and easily moving into position as you lure
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 but this time say the word “close” just as their bottom touches the ground Do this 3 times 9. Fade the lure and work on duration – Reward pup for being still and calm. Ignore any wriggling or mouthing.
  8. Do this 3 times
  9. Fade the lure and work on duration – Reward pup for being still and calm. Ignore any wriggling or mouthing.

Handling Method

NOTE: For pups over 3 weeks, all handling starts in the “Close” position.


  1. Gently hold the puppy’s chin with one hand then use the other hand to lift their ear 
  2. Look inside and smell their ear for any signs of infection 
  3. Repeat with the other ear 
  4. Gentle praise, reward


  1. Hold puppy’s chin gently and look at each eye 
  2. Gentle praise, reward


  1. Gently hold pup’s chin and use the other hand to lift pup’s chin on one side to look at their teeth 
  2. Repeat on the other side 
  3. Gentle praise, reward

Legs and paws

  1. Run your hand down one of pup’s legs to their paw 
  2. Feel between the pads on their paw 
  3. Gentle praise, reward
  4. Repeat with other 3 paws 

Vet Restraint

  1. Use your left hand to gently restrain pup’s head against your chest so they are looking towards your left 
  2. Run your right hand down the back of the pup’s right leg to their elbow then raise their leg (it should be outstretched as if for a blood draw) 
  3. Mark and pay 
  4. Switch so pup is facing the opposite way and the other leg is outstretched 
  5. Gentle praise, reward

 Lay Over

  1. Place one arm underneath pup’s front legs
  2. Lift your arm (therefore lifting the pup’s front legs)
  3. Lean down until you are lying over the top of the dog 
  4. Remove your hand from under the pup 
  5. Gentle praise, reward

Release cue

  1. Tell the puppy “Go free” and allow them to break position 
  2. Give them a pat and plenty of praise

Handler can throughout the day not engage with pup but still provide variety by  

  • Knocking on the door when passing the den. 
  • Make other random sounds throughout the day e.g. when going in den for other duties like health checks, weighing pups, changing bedding 
  • Rattle hanging toys, bang two objects together to make an unexpected noise, drop objects, pretend to cough, laugh or sneeze. 

The handler can take pup outside of the den for one on one time away from the littermate. Again, a very brief experience will aid new learning and build confidence and resilience. Return pup to Brood for a comfort feed. 

Only extend time away from littermates once pups are comfortable and have confidence in the handler. Pups are learning the handler will not ask pup to do more than it is capable of doing. Building trust between handler and pup is ongoing.

Have Brood in with pups (ensure Brood knows and is comfortable with onlookers) 

Short visits initially and end on a positive before pup displays stress signals 

Repeat a second time for confidence building. Pup has been there so building up more positive associations around changing environments 

Use bedding that has the pups/Brood scent on it 

Bring familiar toys 

No new people in with pups. Staff are a familiar like toys and blankets. Limit new learning to sights, smells, sounds in new environment.

Introduce pups to the room prior to placing it in hydrobath. 

No water initially. Non slip mat on floor 

Pups in pairs 

Familiar toys for play 

Voice and touch for reassurance 

Time ending so it is a short brief positive experience 

Goal: To teach puppies to purposefully follow mom and people from one place to another. This activity should be done beginning when puppies are all comfortably walking at around 4 weeks old. 

Location: This activity should only be done over short distances where the puppies are already located for example- from whelping room to the litter’s outside play area. 


  1.   Say (Mom’s name) and puppies, “Let’s Go”
  2.   Take a few steps and wait for puppies to follow mom
  3.   Give verbal praise to the Mom and Puppies. 
  4.   Continue to take a few steps and verbally praise mom and puppies for following you. 
  5.   Remember to keep sessions under 5 minutes.