Pet Behavior

Socialization, Behavior, Training and Restraint of Pet Animals

We are living in a society that is rapidly evolving regarding the human pet relationships. This relationship has changed over the past decade to the point that the emotional attachment to pets is deeper and broader than ever before. More people are bringing pets into their personal lives and the relationships that develop are more meaningful than ever before. Appreciation of this bond that is developing between the species is essential to thriving in the animal care industry of the new millennium. This relationship has many benefits to both humans and animals. These benefits include increased longevity, increased quality of life, less disease and reduced stress associated with our urbanized society. By embracing the human companion animal bond we are seeing our patients through the same eyes as our clients do. With this vision, we can better understand our clients’ feelings and emotions that occur in times of medical crisis and can offer health care that prevent medical crises from occurring.

Prerequisites for the development of this bond are appropriate socialization of the pet, a proper communication protocol for the owner and preventative medical support from the animal health care team. For us to understand and provide for these needs we need to understand the socialization process. Once the socialization process is understood, we will examine the behavior of adult pets. Animals speak in body language and understanding this language is the first step in developing a communication protocol. Animal training is then discussed using time-tested techniques for developing a well-mannered pet. Our approach to the restraint of pet animals is presented so that we minimize the danger of handling fractious animals. We will temper these discussions with how to use distraction instead of restraint and how to gain an animal’s trust before trying to perform a procedure.


  1. Be able to list the four distinct periods of socialization that a puppy goes through in its development.
  2. Know which of these periods and at what age does a puppy start having bowel and bladder control.
  3. Be able to understand the Socialization Period and how that affects our recommendations for puppy care and weaning from littermates.


One facet of developmental behavior is the process of socialization. Knowledge of the socialization process is important for several reasons. Socialization of young animals has a remarkable influence on the subsequent behavior patterns as an adult. Additionally, an understanding of the socialization process will provide insight into the origin of normal adult behavior patterns that are discussed later in this text. The possible causes of deviant behavior are better understood with a prior knowledge of normal causes of the behavior. Knowledge of the socialization process and development of behavior also provides information on the proper methods of rearing young animals so adult behavioral problems may be avoided.

Socialization of Dogs

Primary socialization is the process whereby the young puppy forms initial social relationships with other individuals, including human beings. These social relationships change as the puppy matures and are associated with four distinct periods of development: the neonatal period, the transition period, the socialization period, and the juvenile period. Each of these periods is closely related to structural and functional changes that occur in the nervous system as the puppy matures.

Neonatal Period

In most breeds of dogs, this period lasts for the first two weeks of the puppy’s life. During this time, the puppy has social interaction with its littermates. Most of the mother-puppy interaction is related to nourishment and warmth since the puppy is completely dependent on the bitch. This is understandable, since the neonatal puppy lacks many of the sensory and motor capacities necessary for complex social activities. The newborn is functionally blind and deaf but has a good sense of smell. His major sensory capacities appear to be thermal (heat) and tactile (touch) perceptions, while motor activities are limited to crawling, suckling and distress vocalization. Because of these sensory and motor restrictions, the puppy’s social behavior is minimal. Ingestive behavior is limited to suckling. Eliminative behavior (urination and defecation) occurs primarily as a response to abdominal or anogenital stimulation by the bitch.

The neonatal pup exhibits preliminary exploratory behavior in the slow crawling movements while turning his head from side to side. This response is noted when the puppy is trying to find the mother’s nipple or some other warm object. All other social interactions of the puppy are achieved through care seeking behavior. If the puppy is hungry, cold, or hurt, he gives a series of rapid whines until comforted by the bitch or human handler.

Transition Period

Dramatic changes occur from 15 to 21 days of age, characterized as neonatal behavior transitions to the beginning of sensory, motor, and psychological capacities common in adult behavior. This transition varies from a state of complete dependence upon the bitch to one of relative independence. During this time the puppy’s eyes and ears become functional, allowing him to respond to visual and auditory stimuli, while his motor system has matured sufficiently to permit the puppy to stand, walk and chew. A change also occurs in the learning abilities. At the end of the transition period, the rudiments of adult social behavior patterns emerge, e.g., the puppy wags its tail at the sight of people or other animals and begins to play actively with his littermates by biting, chewing and pawing. The puppy also develops control of urination and defecation and begins to eliminate outside the nest area. In summary, during the transition period, the puppy’s behavior undergoes a rapid transition from the neonatal state of total dependence on the bitch to recognizable adult behavior patterns.

Socialization Period

Although some of the social interactions occur during the first three weeks of the puppy’s life, major social interactions and attachments develop later. The socialization period for dogs usually begins during the fourth week of life and extends into the twelfth or fourteenth week. During this period, the puppy acquires almost all of the adult sensory, motor and learning abilities.

The experiences of the young puppy during the early socialization period will have the most dramatic effect on ultimate adult behavior. For this reason, we refer to this period of socialization as the sensitive period of development. Early in the socialization period, the puppy’s behavior is related to care seeking activities, including a search for food, warmth, and comfort. It forms a strong attachment to the bitch and tries to follow her if she moves around the cage or pen. Distress vocalizations are exhibited when the puppy is isolated for brief periods in a strange place. In addition, it may show a fear response to strange objects or people during the first week of the puppy socialization period, and may hide, growl, or run away.

While in this period, the puppy begins to lap up and drink liquids and chew on solid food. The eruption of teeth aids in the chewing activities and also plays a role in the development of antagonistic behavior patterns. Puppies begin chewing and biting one another in playful fighting activities, sometimes growling at one another in mock battle play or when in competition for food or play objects. This competitive behavior plays an important role in the establishment of a social hierarchy or dominance order. The owners of the puppies can recognize which puppies will be the dominant and/or aggressive ones and which ones will be timid and/or submissive.

Other social activities are seen in the form of early pack or group-coordinated behavior. If one puppy leaves the home area, the others will usually follow. The puppies begin to explore and investigate their environment. They will first approach objects cautiously and may give a startled response to strange objects. A puppy will gradually become accustomed to his new environment and will venture further from his home area. This process is also seen in the puppies’ eliminative behavior. Early in socialization, the puppy defecates and urinates close to his nest or cage. As the puppy matures, it gradually goes farther from the cage and eliminates in specific spots. When the puppy needs to defecate, he will usually run to an area, wander around with his nose to the ground, and then circle rapidly. Most pet owners do not realize that this is the ideal time to housebreak a puppy. Procedures used to housebreak the puppy have permanent influence on the subsequent eliminative behavior.

As the socialization process progresses, there is a gradual change in the young puppy’s social interactions. In the fourth week, the puppy interacts primarily with his mother and to a limited extent his littermates. The young puppy learns about care giving behavior even though it may be months before this behavior pattern is elicited. This may be important in female puppies because they may learn some of the behavioral activities appropriate to maternal care. This period is also a sensitive one since severe emotional and social stresses at this time apparently have a lasting effect on the puppy. The way the bitch or human handler responds to a puppy’s vocalization of distress and general behavior may determine how the puppy reacts to stressful situations later in life. Taking a puppy away from its mother at this time is certain to cause poor socialization.

By the fifth week of age, the puppy has increased social interactions with littermates as evidenced by play behavior, running together and fighting or dominance behavior. This type of behavioral activity is seen from the fifth through the seventh week of life. The time span is referred to as the critical period of socialization. In a sense, the puppy must learn to be a dog. Young puppies isolated from their littermates during this interval frequently have difficulty, later in life, socializing with other dogs and may show abnormal sexual behavior as adults. A female may be unwilling to accept a male, or a male may not know how to react to a female in estrus. These represent extreme reactions, but we should be aware of them when mating problems occur.

Coinciding with this time of socialization to other dogs is an increasing responsiveness on the part of the puppy towards humans. Interactions with humans usually begin around six weeks of age. This has several important functional and practical considerations. At this time, the bitch normally weans the puppies and they become more independent. This is also the time when the puppy’s nervous system reaches the structural and functional capacities of the adult. In other words, the puppy is ready to learn and will do so quite readily. Eight weeks of age is an ideal time to place puppies in their new home so further socialization with humans and subsequent housebreaking and training can occur. Unfortunately, many dog breeders and potential dog owners fail to realize the importance of obtaining a puppy at this age. Puppies obtained too early will be too “human oriented” and puppies obtained too late will be too “dog oriented”.

The socialization period is one in which the puppy forms many new social relationships. These relationships can generally be divided into three specific periods:

  1. Socialization to the mother

  2. Socialization to peers

  3. Socialization to humans

Socialization to the mother

When we speak to our clients regarding these periods of socialization it is important to explain each period and the results of poor development during each period. During the socialization to the mother period, we can say that the puppy learns compassionate care from its mother during this first period. If there is disruption of this period, the puppy may not learn or develop good maternal instincts. More importantly, it may not learn to care for and show concern for its human companion.

Socialization to peers

During the second period, the puppy learns to speak “dog”, this means he learns to say “hello”, he learns the “body language” and how to respond to other dogs. Without this development, the puppy will be fearful or aggressive towards other dogs. This is exemplified by the dog which barks at all other dogs and seeks its owner when other pets approach, as opposed to the normal greeting and sniffing that goes into saying “hello” in dog. Dogs also use a complicated set of behaviors to say “I’m dominant” or “This is my territory” or “I’m submissive” or “I’m in heat” or “Let’s play” and so on. Without this period, dogs become illiterate about their own language.

Socialization to humans

The final sensitive period of the socialization period is when pups learn to speak “human”. They learn not to fear the touch and embrace of a human. They learn not to be afraid of the human speech. If puppies are not raised with human interaction during this period, it is unlikely they will ever trust a human. These pets will be wild and “dog oriented”.

Juvenile Period

juvenile period of puppy
The time from twelve weeks of age until sexual maturity occurs defines the juvenile period. This behavioral period varies in duration depending on the breed of the dog. Behavioral activities and further socialization of the young dog depend largely on his environment. The young dog left in the kennel during this time develops quite differently from the dog that matures and grows with a human family. In either environment, the most important process during this time is achieving social independence. The young dog must learn how to survive by itself. During the juvenile period, the young dog will try to establish its dominance. A young dog left in a kennel with several littermates or other dogs of similar size or age may fight over food, water, or play objects. At other times spontaneous bouts of aggression of one dog towards another may occur. These usually occur until a dominance hierarchy is established. The young puppy that is placed in a home becomes a part of the social organization of the family and will try to achieve social independence.

There is little doubt that the young dog will test the members of the family until he finds a place in the home. New pet owners need to understand this is when many behavioral problems arise. The untrained or undisciplined puppy at this time may become aggressive or destructive. When this occurs, carpets are chewed or wet, chairs destroyed, drapes ruined, doors broken, and many other obnoxious things occur. These events frequently lead the novice dog owner to deposit their new pet at the city pound, dog shelter, or the pet may be abandoned in a rural area. This happens all too often and contributes to the large number of unwanted dogs in our towns and cities. The human/companion animal bond suffers greatly from misunderstanding and miscommunication during this period. It is during this period that the “alpha rollover” is most effective in establishing dominance of family members over the puppy. This procedure is described later in this text.

If new pet owners understand that a puppy will constantly test them, they can alleviate many of these behavioral problems. It is also necessary for the owners to understand that the puppy is going to spend a lot of time exploring his environment, and in the process, he may inadvertently ruin some household objects. The owners should show the puppy which areas of the house are open for exploration. In most cases, it is advisable to give the young dog something to play with and/or chew on to avoid any damage to items of value. New owners should also be made aware of the puppy’s possible reaction when they leave the house since the young dog may become frightened or lonesome, thus causing some damage. It is good to keep a puppy in a place where they cannot damage things in the owner’s absence. We recommend an airline kennel. As soon as the puppy has been trained and can be trusted, the puppy can be allowed access to the entire house. Thus, the new owner must make it clear that the dog must obey the rules of the house. Any other alternative usually leads to problems.


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