What is the History of Socialization?

John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller, in their 13-year study begin­ning in the 1950s at Bar Har­bor, Maine, sum­ma­rized in the clas­sic book Genet­ics and the Social Behav­ior of the Dog (1965), set out to answer the ques­tion of what influ­ence, if any, hered­ity had on behav­ior.  Although they wanted to under­stand human behav­ior, they said, “Any­one who wishes to under­stand a human behav­ior trait or hered­i­tary dis­ease can usu­ally find the cor­re­spond­ing con­di­tion in dogs with very lit­tle effort.”

One of their dis­cov­er­ies was that there were cer­tain peri­ods in a puppy’s early life where cer­tain events must take place, for exam­ple, con­tact with humans or expo­sure to other dogs.  If those events did not take place, then that oppor­tu­nity was lost, and the puppy would not develop to its fullest poten­tial.  Those were called “crit­i­cal periods.”

Clarence Pfaf­fen­berger worked with the Guide Dogs for The Blind and later worked with Scott and Fuller.  His book The New Knowl­edge of Dog Behav­ior (1963) chron­i­cles his research on how to find the ideal guide dog puppy.  He applied their work to his own and came up with addi­tional findings.

In the 1960s, the US Army was try­ing to breed a dog that was genet­i­cally and behav­iorally sound for use in the mil­i­tary.  It was called The Bio-Sensor Project” but was later changed to “Super­dog.”  Dr. Michael W. Fox was involved in this project. In Under­stand­ing Your Dog, Dr. Fox talks about “how envi­ron­men­tal influ­ences early in life can have pro­found and endur­ing effects on behavior.”

Dr. Car­men Battaglia, although not a par­tic­i­pant in the Bio-Sensor project, came up with a series of han­dling exer­cises based on Dr. Fox’s work which he now calls “Devel­op­ing High Achiev­ers,” for­merly known as “Early Neu­ro­log­i­cal Stimulation.”

He came up with a series of five exercises:

  • Tac­ti­cal stim­u­la­tion (between toes)
  • Head held erect
  • Head pointed down
  • Supine posi­tion
  • Ther­mal stimulation

If these exer­cises are done cor­rectly, pup­pies gen­er­ally are more behav­iorally sound than if they are not done and seem to have a ben­e­fi­cial effect on the puppy’s men­tal and emo­tional devel­op­ment although there have not been any sci­en­tific tests to prove this.

The next devel­op­ment in puppy social­iza­tion came from Dr. Ian Dun­bar who both researched pup­pies and began what are now com­mon­place – puppy classes.  These classes help pup­pies learn about play­ing and dog body lan­guage, BUT they are not a free-for-all where pup­pies can run around and do what­ever they want.

Why is Socialization, Habituation, and Enrichment Important?

When a puppy is born, he does not know that he is a dog.  It must be learned through the process we call pri­mary social­iza­tion.  He must also learn how to inter­act with humans and other ani­mals and also to be com­fort­able in his environment.

Puppy social­iza­tion, habit­u­a­tion, and envi­ron­men­tal enrich­ment – expos­ing pup­pies to new sit­u­a­tions and their adapt­ing to it before puberty – is impor­tant because pup­pies who are not well social­ized and habit­u­ated before 16 weeks old will not reach their full poten­tial as adult dogs.  The ulti­mate result is that pup­pies will grow up to be a behav­iorally fit dogs.


There are cer­tain peri­ods in a dog’s life which are sen­si­tive peri­ods, dur­ing which a lit­tle learn­ing goes a long way, and that learn­ing influ­ences his future behav­ior with both ben­e­fi­cial and dam­ag­ing effects.  We are con­cen­trat­ing on that learn­ing here.

A dog’s ulti­mate tem­pera­ment is deter­mined by his genes and how he is raised.   Breed­ers can con­trol whether they want to tem­pera­ment to be a part of their breed­ing pro­gram.  How both breed­ers and own­ers raise the pup­pies for the first 16 weeks of their lives has a tremen­dous influ­ence on whether the pup­pies will become well-adjusted and behav­iorally fit adult dogs because pup­pies are, essen­tially, a clean slate.  The small amounts of time in giv­ing pup­pies pos­i­tive early learn­ing expe­ri­ences will influ­ence and will have a dra­matic impact later on.

The influ­encers on how pup­pies act as adults are

  • The tem­pera­ment of the dam/mother
  • How the dam acts towards peo­ple, events, and other dogs
  • How peo­ple inter­act with the puppy
  • The age at which the puppy is sep­a­rated from its mother and litter
  • How many peo­ple, places, events, sounds, sights, and loca­tions the puppy has been intro­duced to before 16 weeks.

If a puppy is not does not have proper social­iza­tion and habit­u­a­tion, it will never reach its poten­tial and will likely be

  • Shy or timid
  • Fear­ful of any­thing new, both peo­ple and events
  • Aggres­sive
  • Unable to relate or com­mu­ni­cate with other dogs

Med­ically unsound (Since he is in a state of stress and anx­i­ety, his body will not have the energy to fight off illnesses)

What is Socialization?

The term “social­iza­tion” has sev­eral def­i­n­i­tions depend­ing on whom you are tak­ing to and what that person’s back­ground is.

When dog own­ers speak about “social­iza­tion,” they gen­er­ally mean they want their puppy to get along with peo­ple and other dogs.

Dog train­ers along with some cer­ti­fied ani­mal behav­ior­ists and vet­eri­nary behav­ior­ists have a dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tion of social­iza­tion which encom­passes expo­sure to dif­fer­ent peo­ple, ani­mals, loca­tions, and stim­uli includ­ing all the five senses.

The def­i­n­i­tion of “social­iza­tion” for ani­mal behav­ior­ists is how an ani­mal learns to inter­act socially with ani­mals of its own species.

Social­iz­ing” is ani­mal to ani­mal, two liv­ing beings.  How­ever, in the realm of dog­dom, the terms “social­iz­ing” and “habit­u­at­ing” have been lumped together under the term “social­iza­tion” for such a long time that it’s dif­fi­cult for many of us to sep­a­rate them now – we are using the terms col­lo­qui­ally even though our use is tech­ni­cally incor­rect.  I think where the over­lap stemmed from is that Scott and Fuller said that three to twelve weeks is a crit­i­cal social­iza­tion period.  They were talk­ing about dogs.

Later research was done on whether habit­u­a­tion to the envi­ron­ment needed to occur dur­ing the same period.  In sev­eral sub­se­quent arti­cles by many authors, both the terms of “social­iza­tion” and “habit­u­a­tion” were used sep­a­rately.  At some point, the terms seemed to have mor­phed together so that “social­iza­tion” included habit­u­a­tion (which is another term hav­ing sev­eral mean­ings depend­ing on the source; but for our pur­poses here, it means get­ting used to something).

To fur­ther muddy the waters, many peo­ple con­fuse “social­iza­tion” with “behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion.”  The time for social­iza­tion is when the intro­duc­tion such as hear­ing thun­der, meet­ing another dog, see­ing a per­son with a beard, etc. hap­pens while he is a puppy with empha­sis on before the onset of the fear period.  Behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion is his learn­ing to adapt after this time.

We are going to marry the tech­ni­cal with the col­lo­quial and talk about a puppy’s being com­fort­able around any­thing new before he is 16 weeks old – includ­ing humans, other ani­mals, and the sights, smells, sounds, and loca­tions of every­day life – and, yes, that does lump together “social­iza­tion” and “habit­u­at­ing,” but we talk about them separately.