Imprinting is the process by which your puppy learns the behaviors of a parent, other dogs, humans or other beings, and gains some of his basic socialization skills. By letting puppies spend at least 8 weeks with mom and littermates, and giving new pet puppies plenty of chances to make friends during their early months, you can ensure they grow up to be happy and well-adjusted.
The key imprinting period for your puppy occurs between 3 and 12 weeks of age. Before this period, a puppy is still learning how to control his body and getting used to his senses. Puppies younger than 3 weeks or so are too overwhelmed with new stimuli to learn much. After 3 months of age, your puppy becomes an adolescent and begins to test boundaries. The things he learns in the interim will color how he interacts with others and may be with him his whole life.
The first phase of imprinting is the canine socialization period, from 3 to 7 weeks. During this time, your puppy will learn how to interact with puppies and adult dogs, and pick up the social cues necessary to coexist with other canines. Spending time with other dogs during this period is important to your puppy’s development, and you should introduce him to other dogs even if he has a companion at home. Be sure to introduce him only to dogs you know are healthy and vaccinated. Providing a variety of experiences will go a long way toward making him comfortable with any new dog he meets. A lack of canine contact during this period may cause your puppy to imprint on you instead and lead him to treat other dogs as unfamiliar threats.
Between weeks 7 and 12 you can introduce your puppy to other species, including humans. Allowing your puppy to meet and interact with new people will teach him the differences between dogs and humans, and make him comfortable with strangers instead of fearful. This period is a good time to introduce other animals, if you have cats or other pets in the home. You should also continue to introduce your dog to other canines to broaden his social experiences and encourage socialization.
During the imprinting period, from around age 8 weeks to age 10 weeks, your puppy becomes vulnerable to traumatic experiences. During this "fear imprint" period, anything that stresses or frightens your dog could result in a lifelong phobia. Take care to control any new introductions during this time; keep them light-hearted and positive, and avoid negative reinforcement. Avoid potentially frightening or painful situations like travel or unnecessary trips to the vet, in order to make this period as comfortable as possible for your puppy.
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