Optimising Puppy Socialisation-Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Training Programme during the Early Socialisation Period

Animals (Basel). 2022 Nov 8;12(22):3067. doi: 10.3390/ani12223067.


The socialisation period in dog puppies is one of the most important periods determining behavioural development in dogs. Here, we aimed to test the effect of providing stimulation (beyond mere exposure) early during the socialisation period (approx. 3-6 weeks) on puppies' behaviour. Each of 12 litters (83 puppies) of various breeds was divided into a treatment and a control group. Between 3-6 weeks, the treatment group received age-appropriate "challenge" exercises (carefully graded noise exposure, novel objects, and problem-solving tasks) four times per week (total 12 times). The control group spent the same time with the trainer, who cuddled or played with the puppies. In a behaviour test at 6-7 weeks, two of four principal components, "social-startle" and "response to novelty", differed significantly between the groups. Treatment puppies were bolder towards the novel object, showed a reduced startle reaction, and recovered more quickly after a loud noise. Furthermore, they accomplished the problem-solving task faster and were more persistent during problem-solving than the control group. The control group showed a higher interest in a friendly stranger. It is a possibility that increased handling experienced by the control group had beneficial effects on their sociability. No long-term effects of the treatment were found, as determined by a validated dog personality questionnaire, available for 67 dogs at the age of six months. Likely, a continuation of the treatment over a longer time period would be necessary to obtain lasting effects, since the training took place only during the first third of the socialisation period.

Keywords: Canis familiaris; dog; novel object test; problem-solving task; puppy; socialisation; startle recovery; stress inoculation; stress resilience; stress-coping.

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.