I imagine that most new puppy owners are very familiar with the phrase ‘socialisation’, it’s what everyone is telling you that you MUST do, from your gran to your breeder, your vet and even your postman. And yes, they are correct. Socialisation is a really important first step and should be your focus of early training, it should be on your mind from the day that you take your puppy home; but do you know what it really means?
It does not mean that your puppy needs to meet and play with every single dog in your neighbourhood.
It does not mean that you should ‘let them get on with it’ when they are pestering adult dogs that have now told your puppy to piss off. Twice.
It does not mean that you should take your puppy to meet 12 other puppies in a small garden and let chaos reign.
In fact, the term is not exclusive to other dogs.
Socialisation is helping your dog to learn about the world in which we want them to spend the rest of their lives, it is about creating confidence and security in our homes, out and about, around people, dogs and the human lifestyle. It is teaching our dogs that the vet is not scary, helping them to learn how to behave in a car, guiding them on how to walk on a lead and how to act when faced with people approaching or dogs minding their business on the other side of the road. It is teaching them how to appropriately greet and behave when interacting with other dogs.
How you socialise your puppy will depend on what stage of development they are currently at.
Just like our human children, puppies need to be shown how to behave, act and respond to everything they must face on a day to day basis from the hoover, the busy road and the woods.
In order to create an adaptable, happy and confident puppy we need to make sure that not only are we socialising them through exposure but also by keeping that exposure positive and by working hard not to overwhelm them. We need to ensure we are rewarding correct responses and good behaviour whilst also discouraging bad behaviour through interruption and redirection. We want to manage fear not through forcing them to overcome this but by allowing them space, allowing them to explore at their pace and showing them there is nothing to worry about.
Remember, early life experiences can really stick with us, it can form behaviour going forwards and create powerful learning and you know what they say about first impressions.
Here are a few ways which you can responsibly socialise your puppy:
• Before your puppy is able to go on walks due to vaccination status, take them on a couple of short trips a day by carrying them in your arms. I recommend spending 10 minutes where you can see and hear a busy road. You do not need to be at the edge of that road and you also want to make sure at no point is puppy scared, if they are, you’re too close. You can also visit a high street and spend 10 minutes sitting on a bench and watching the world pass you by. You can drive your puppy around the block and come home. When able to do so with restrictions, pop into your vets, have a quick chat with the receptionist, ask them to give your puppy some treats, if they are feeling confident enough and then go home. Pair all of these new experiences with tasty treats to reward confidence and good behaviour and show your puppy how positive it all is.
• Introduce your puppy to other dogs and puppies but ensure that you teach them they cannot say hello to every single dog they see by allowing them to only watch some and reward them as the dog passes. It is important not to let your puppy jump all over another dog, equally it is important to ensure another dog does not jump all over your puppy, this can lead them to associate other dogs with fear. Reward your puppy for confidence and move them away in response to any impolite behaviour. Keep play sessions short and sweet so that they can calm down, play can escalate very quickly at a young age. It is wise to pair dogs appropriately, introduce your puppy to other dogs that share its personality, such as timid with timid and confident with confident. We do not want a very confident dog to scare a shy puppy and we do not want the confident one to learn they can get away with bully type behaviour.
• Make sure your puppy meets people of all shapes and sizes, ages, personalities and characteristics- but not all at once! In small doses. Mum round for a cuppa on Tuesday, the electrician round for an hour on Thursday and say hello in your arms to the postman every other day. This will help your puppy to learn that people are safe. If your puppy is frightened, never force them to say hello, ask the person to ignore them and carry doing what they are doing. The puppy can approach in their own time.
• Get your puppy used to handling, being picked up, having their paws held, having their ears touched or their teeth looked at. These are all essential tasks later in life so the earlier we can get your puppy happy with that, the better! Remember to only carry on as long as puppy is happy and always reward good behaviour e.g. I lift an ear, I give a treat, I hold a paw, I give a treat.
Want to know more?
Please, if you’re getting a puppy soon or you have one and need guidance, do not hesitate to ask for help. There are so many professionals out there that really want to help you.
What I can offer:
- Puppy 121 training course that covers socialisation as part of the curriculum
- Puppy classes that help teach you how to let your puppies play appropriately and what to watch out for.
- A two-hour advice session for expectant parents to discuss the best first steps from taking puppy home to that first night and everything afterwards.
Direct all enquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org