What is the ‘critical period’?

In the early stages of every puppy’s life there is a period of time in which they are best able to accept new experiences and learn that these are a normal part of life, not to be feared.  It is a relatively short time from about 5-12 weeks of age. We called this the ‘critical period’ because if a puppy is not exposed to all the stimulus he is likely to encounter as part of everyday life during these few weeks, it is likely that he will react fearfully to them later or not be confident when encountering unfamiliar things as he gets older.

When you first get your puppy home at around 8 weeks, hopefully the breeder would have already begun to introduce him the everyday sights, sounds and smells of a family home. One of your top priorities during your first month with him is to safely and calmly expose your Faithful friend to various aspects of your environment inside and outside of your home that you want him to accept into his daily life without fear.

Examples of this can include the vacuum cleaner; other pets; traffic noise; pushchairs, other people etc

You will have to be careful not allow these things to frighten your puppy otherwise he may associate the object with fear rather than confidence so hold him close to you and don’t let him too near but just let him experience the new things for a short time and repeat the next day. He won’t be fully vaccinated yet so you should be careful not to allow him into prolonged close contact with places that adult dogs may have been so he won’t pick up illnesses. You can carry him outside and allow him to see and hear cars etc. from a safe distance.

In your home you can make use of the puppy’s crate/cage to keep him at a safe distance while you allow your other pets into the room one at a time. Don’t let them too near to the puppy or he may feel threatened but he can see, hear and smell them from a distance for a few minutes without being allowed to chase them. You can give him a stuffed Kong or a longer lasting chew  while this is going on the keep him happy so he associates the new experience with a positive reinforcement.

As he gets older you will need to continue this positive socialisation and habituation carefully and consistently over the first two years so that he grows into a calm and confident dog who takes everything in his stride. If your puppy has not had the ideal start in life so far, it’s not too late to build his confidence and gradually introduce him to new experiences in a safe and secure way. Regular 5 minute exposures everyday will go a long way to help him, as long as he shows no signs of severe anxiety.