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Early Socialization Project Introduction

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The Early Socialization Project delivers an extensive socialization guideline for working dog puppies from birth to beyond 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.

Disclaimer: An amalgamation of techniques shown to be effective in promoting effective socialization of young puppies from birth to 8 or 10 weeks of age has been assembled on the pages on this section. Please know that although the techniques have proven effective by the guide dog organizations that worked together to create these pages, there is absolutely no guarantee that these techniques will work for your organization. Any risk associated with adopting or adapting these techniques is born by the consumer who chooses to implement them in whatever form. It is our sincere hope that the pages are useful, but they are offered here with no guarantee, either stated directly or implied indirectly.

Why have 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

And here are some more examples of items you could use for early socialization. Throughout this project, we will give you age-appropriate ideas to help you think of new ways you can expose your puppies to sounds, surfaces, novel objects and motion. These are the four main ways we categorize socialization experiences.

The importance of biosecurity

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. 

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. 

It’s also important to train staff in canine body language. Any abnormal behavior in the kennel is as important to note as abnormal behavior during early socialization sessions. Consider how you can record changes – depending on your kennel setup, this could range from recording notes in notebooks to implementing an end of shift update to 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.

Credits and Thanks

Many thanks to Guide Dogs for the Blind, Southeastern Guide Dogs, and Guide Dogs Queensland and the IWDR team for their contributions to this project – with particular thanks to Jane Russenberger, Liz Rote, Dani Prebensen and Dr Zita Penrose for their dedication, passion and collaboration over many years.

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

More Resources

IWDA members can access the following articles, presentations and lectures that can help you upskill and build upon your socialization program. Discover some of the science behind our Early Socialization Program. Not a member? Learn more here.

General Socialization:

Measuring Behavior:

Puppy socialization to improve your working dog program:

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