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Week 4 (21-28 Days)

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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 puppies carried into another room or building), introductions to van/car and bath.

Volunteer Activities

Include a wide variety of volunteer demographics, for gentle handling, play activities, and socialization to different types of people.


This week is another for rapid physical and mental development. Pups become more mobile still as their motor skills and confidence in moving about develops. Encourage their continued exploration and offer them appropriate challenges. Make sure you’re familiar with our guide to Emotional Conflict during Early Socialization.

  • Adjust body handling length to meet the needs of each pup in order to make it a positive experience and build on that solid foundation you have established over the previous few weeks. Massage can still be a calming, soothing bonding activity. Encourage calm acceptance of body handling – this isn’t time for play.
  • Exposure to novel objects (and other visual stimuli) along with motor skills development are a focus this week – though make sure you continue building upon sound and surface socialization too.
  • Continue promoting 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. One-on-one sessions and introductions to new environments can be big challenges for puppies at this age, so make sure your handlers understand puppy body language and know how to support the pups through these activities.
  • Pup is in the Engaged (Green) zone most of the time: they will happily explore a new environment, play with littermates then fall asleep, and accept familiar handling techniques, surfaces, objects and textures without issue.
  • Pup is engaged with the handler or environment most of the time (not hiding, overly stressed, or shutting down). Pup’s confidence will increase as it interacts and learns that its environment is constantly changing.
  • The addition of unfamiliar stimuli is accepted with minimal issue, and additional exposures to stimuli show improvement in the puppies’ comfort levels.
  • Alternatively, pup is conflicted briefly then moves back into the green zone once it has resolved the internal conflict.  (Pup displays 1 or 2 stress signs (yawning, whining) it quickly resolves inner conflict without escalating to additional stress signals; Second exposure pups are more confident with a reduced number of stress signals. 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.)

For more information on puppy engagement during socialization, read our article on Emotional Conflict During Socialization here.

  • 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.

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.

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
  • 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.

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.

  • Review our massage and body handling protocols.  Make sure you’re not progressing too quickly. Ensure that the massage is no longer than 1 minute. Reduce time then slowly build up again.
  • Are pups touched prior to being lifted off ground for weighing? Petting the pup before handling can help avoid startling the pup.
  • Ensure all staff move pups slowly and each pup is fully supported. Make sure not to move pups quickly through the air.
  • 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.

During these early weeks, you can encourage mom to come near the puppies. If puppies continue to show stress signs, move puppies closer to their mother and littermates.

If puppies are regularly “getting lost” or “stuck” away from mom and littermates, you may have too many passive environmental enrichment items in the den. Reduce the number of items or the complexity of the environment.

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 the novel object.

Below we have marked each activity with one to three ✓. Although all activities are important, we have highlighted activities that are particularly critical during this period of the puppies’ development. Make sure you still offer the pups a wide variety of activities and do not only focus on those with the most ✓!

Our pups are developing great hearing, sight, smell and motor skills. Make sure to keep rotating a variety of items in their den environment – Variety is important to keep pups inquisitive and accepting of change.

Make sure to emphasise different surfaces: putting new surfaces in your den rotation is great for passive socialization.

Some examples of items to introduce include:

  • Toilet Box (To be used if needed by pups in between toilet breaks)
  • Ramps between areas (for example, ramps between indoor and outdoor pens, or up into a slightly elevated crate)
  • New sounds – search on Youtube for soundtracks: Weather sounds, Cafe/kitchen sounds, children playing, cartoons or episodes of shows, etc.
  • More visuals: Posters or print-outs of patterns at puppy-eye height and items that are brightly coloured.
  • Surfaces: Different fabrics, household surfaces like tiles or wood, cardboard, concrete, fake or real grass, and other more complex and creative surfaces
  • Novel objects: Mannequins dressed in weird and wonderful outfits; statues of dogs or statues found at garden centers
  • Hanging toys: These help develop puppies’ perception of items above their head. Wind chimes, baby mobiles, streamers. (Make sure hanging toys are at an appropriate height as to not risk puppies being caught up in them.)
  • Hard Chew Toys (puppy appropriate!) can be introduced.

Note this video covers multiple age groups. Please see the section from 3:08 – 5:13 for content appropriate for this age group.

  • When exposing pups to new sounds, think about variety. Music can include jazz, classic, country, pop, the whelping box.
  • If Mom is uncomfortable with items or will chew items up, only place them in the den under supervision for a short period of time.



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. 

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. Here is a list to get you started:

  • Men, women of different ages (see note below on children)
  • Men with facial hair/beards
  • Large and small people / tall and short people
  • People using different mobility items: wheelchairs, white canes, walking canes
  • People holding umbrellas
  • People with bulky handbags, backpacks
  • People wearing hats
  • People wearing glasses
  • People who speak loudly; laughing people
  • People from a distance (for example, knocking at the door) – both visiting pups and not visiting pups
  • People making erratic movements
  • People sitting on the floor or on chairs
  • People standing and talking together

A note regarding children
When socializing your pups with children, be careful to introduce young puppies to calm children who understand how to appropriately interact with the pup. If possible, letting the pup see and hear children without direct interaction can be helpful. Children can be loud, smelly (with tasty morsels on their clothes and face), and move erratically. Children can also react to puppies in ways that either encourage puppies to chase them, or alternatively might scare the pup. It’s ideal to have a few initial interactions at a distance or with calm children to build a healthy foundation, particularly when socializing younger puppies.

Additionally, make sure children are gentle with the pups – hold the puppy yourself and encourage the child to gently pat the puppy; or get the child to sit on the ground before placing the pup in their lap. Do not leave puppies and children unsupervised, and do not let children hold the pup in case they accidentally drop the pup!


Continue to add new surfaces each day or change the placement of the surfaces

  • Smooth slippery surfaces are not suitable as this age as pups have only started walking and will be unsteady on their feet
  • Passive crate exposure, uneven surface (ramp into crate), small red wobble toy, tin that rolls, a mirror can be added to den to provide variety 

Add more variety as the pup’s eyesight improves by the use of visual stimulation walls or by changing the location of items around the room.

  • Hanging mobiles for passive coat desensitisation and noise – change the position each day, then add a new hanging toy and repeat the process throughout the week. 
  • Change to new visual pictures on the wall or change position around the room so the pups environment is constantly changing. Acceptance of change will help to build a resilient dog. 

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 being around moving objects.

One useful item to introduce motion are exercise cushions or wobble boards. These tools can help pups develop muscle and motor skills and can often be adjusted to add more complexity/movement as the puppies grow. (For example, a mostly deflated cushion gives young pups an unusual but secure surface with some movement – the same cushion when fully inflated could be a suitable challenge for confident 8 week old pups). When using these tools, make sure to introduce them as secure items with very little movement so your pups aren’t frightened. Use foam or towels as padding which can easily be removed as your puppies grow.

Passive open crate exposure is the foundation to crate training. Puppies can explore the crate and go in and out as they wish. Hard plastic crates can be used if the front door is taken off to prevent puppies from becoming stuck in the crate. The latch can be securely fastened back (or the door is removed) in a metal crate.

Although this is a passive activity, we recommend someone is in the general area to listen out in case any issues arise.

Soft bedding and interactive toys will help to promote positive associations around the crate.


Interactive Activities

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. 

Remember, interactive activities 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. We can also use this information to inform where the puppy will need more support in the future and which raiser or owner will be best for the pup.

Below we have marked each activity with one to three ✓. Although all activities are important, we have highlighted activities that are particularly critical during this period of the puppies’ development. Make sure you still offer the pups a wide variety of activities and do not only focus on those with the most ✓!

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: (Note at younger ages puppies may need to be put in this position to begin the exercise. With age, pups can be taught how to manoeuvre into that position using the lure as described below.) 

  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. 
  • Play sound clips from a Youtube play list to expose puppies to some different or random sounds

Previously, puppies have been exposed to new environments while their mother was present. Depending on the confidence of your pups, you can consider taking the litter for short adventures without their mother to different (but previously introduced) environments. If puppies struggle with this, keep bringing mom along for support and try again next week. You could potentially start off with the “Trolley ride with mom” activity to transport pups to a familiar area, and during the session mom can be removed briefly but kept nearby in case she’s needed.

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.

Continue practicing the “wearing things” skill. This step positively introduces the concept and feel of a puppy coat.

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.

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

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.

All our work exposing pups to body handling, bonding with people and introductions to new environments begins to pay off as we introduce bath time.

Baths should be introduced slowly – expect to spend multiple sessions before you get the pup wet. Some key points to keep in mind:

  • Introduce pups to the room prior to placing pup in hydrobath.
  • No water initially and keep a non slip mat/towel on floor
  • Keep pups in pairs or small groups, and utilise the support of known handlers and mom during early introductions.
  • Use familiar toys, meals and voice and touch for reassurance and to build positive associations.
  • Keep bath exposures short and positive.

This activity allows you to transport puppies to new environments in a biosecure way. Having mom and their littermates nearby will also support the puppies as they’re introduced to new sights, smells and sounds.

  • Keep the brood nearby
  • Plan short visits initially and end on a positive before pups display stress signals
  • Repeat a second time (to the same location) for confidence building. Pup has been there so we are 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.


Please Note: If at any time the health or safety of the puppy is at risk (i.e., the puppy is eating something they aren’t supposed to, or the puppy has escaped the yard) please disregard this protocol and immediately address the concern.

Goal: To associate the cue “Puppy, Puppy” with being fed and to use this cue to call the puppies to you. 

When to do the activity: 

  • Before feeding the puppies

After you enter the kennel, tap the bowls, and say “Puppy, Puppy” before putting the bowls down.  This conditions the puppy to associate being fed after the bowls are tapped together and they hear “Puppy, Puppy”. 

  • Bringing the puppies in from the yard

Materials needed: Treat pouch with the litter’s food

When you are ready to leave the yard, say “Puppy, Puppy” to and give each puppy a treat. Exit the yard and encourage the puppies to follow you into the concrete walkway. When you are halfway to their kennel, give the puppies a treat and reward them for their hard work. 

Use the cue “Puppy, Puppy” to bring the puppies in to their outside kennel. Say “Puppy, Puppy” and encourage the puppies to follow you. Give the puppies a treat when they come into their back kennel. 


If the puppies won’t come to you or follow you out of the yard:

  • Decrease the distance between you and the puppies in the yard. Cue the puppy by saying “Puppy, Puppy” and treat them when they come to you. 
  • Incorporate the “Follow me with Mom” game to introduce the concept of following your voice.

Puppies can now begin to get used to settling inside a closed crate. You can review further information on crate settling here.

Some tips:

  • Soft bedding and interactive toys will help to promote positive associations around the crate. Make sure to supervise puppies with bedding in case they chew it. If the puppy chews bedding, remove it for the safety of the pup and make sure you provide appropriate chew toys while the pup is in the crate.
  • Pup should spend time in a crate away from their littermates but around people. Puppies need to learn to settle in their crates while people are around, as this will prepare them for crate time in their raiser’s home.
  • Offer the pup a stuffed Kong or nylabone.
  • Start off slowly to build positive associations: gradually increase time in crate from 5 min to 30 mins. Make sure to toilet the pup before and after.

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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