Socialisation is the way in which your puppy learns to relate to and interact with other animals and humans. It also entails getting used to a variety of environments, situations and life events. Socialisation early on is of huge importance to ensure that your puppy is friendly, well adjusted, can be taken anywhere with you and so that they don’t find the world we live in a scary place.
Most Receptive Period
The most receptive period in a puppy’s life is between 3 and 16 weeks of age. During this time, new experiences will make a deep and lasting impression on your puppy. These experiences whether good or bad will be remembered throughout their life. This receptiveness continues, gradually diminishing as the puppy matures. For this reason, it is very important to expose your puppy to as many situations and environments as possible early on when they are willing to approach anything or anyone without fear.
The earlier in life socialisation is done the more confident your puppy is likely to be in later life around people, animals and in a variety of environments. There is risk of infection when taking an un-vaccinated puppy out of its home environment. As the owner you have to balance this with ensuring you have a dog that is well-adjusted socially later in life. There are some steps you can take to safely socialise your puppy and avoid the risk of infection. Don’t let your puppy mix with dogs of unknown vaccination status and don’t walk you puppy in parks or other areas where other dogs have fouled until your vet has told you it is safe to do so (this will depend on the vaccinations your puppy is given and when they’re given). Try to take your puppy to non-doggy areas and carry them when you need to, to make sure they don’t contact dogs or soiled areas. Your puppy needs to experience the world but they need to do so safely and sensibly.
After the initial setting in period, gradually take your new puppy into as many new situations as possible, for example, on main roads with noisy traffic, on public transport, to shopping centres etc. Make sure to do this slowly so you don’t overwhelm your puppy with too much and always ensure that they’re enjoying each new experience. By doing this your puppy will be ready for and receptive to new situations without being anxious or afraid.
Interaction with adults and children is the most important aspect of your pet’s socialisation. It’s very important that your pet enjoys human company. The more people your puppy meets the more sociable and the friendlier your pet will be with humans. Once your puppy’s confidence has grown try to take them with you as much as possible to expose them to a variety of people. Interaction with sensible children who are used to dogs is very important but this should always be done under strict supervision with the utmost care for both the child’s safety and your puppy’s safety. A puppy that has no interaction with children may be fearful of children later in life.
Your puppy will learn to interact with other dogs appropriately by spending time with well socialised adult dogs. If you have another dog in the family your puppy will learn important social skills such as not to put their teeth and paws all over them and how to communicate effectively. Older dogs will usually tell a puppy off if they play too roughly with them. This is important as such behaviour can get a puppy into trouble with other dogs outside your family later in life if they are too boisterous. Always monitor the play time and if it does become too boisterous and your other dog doesn’t tell them off, intervene and encourage your puppy away and get them to focus on you instead. When your puppy meets other dogs, allow them to play but again always stop the games immediately if the play becomes aggressive. Don’t allow your puppy to play with all other dogs they meet and sometimes call them away from the dog it’s playing with. This will allow you retain control of your puppy in the presence of other dogs and your puppy will learn to play non-aggressively and safely with other dogs.
While socialisation with dogs is of huge importance to your puppy remember that socialisation with you, other adults and children, should be the most important aspect to your puppy’s socialisation. For this reason you may need to restrict the amount of games your new puppy and your adult dog play together. If your puppy spends all their time playing with dogs they will not learn to interact with humans as they will be getting all their playtime and learning all their manners from the other dog. Taking you puppy out on his own without your other dog occasionally will also encourage them to become independent.
During sessions where the puppy is meeting new people or children for the first time, allow your puppy to hide behind you if they want to and let them approach in their own time. Encourage them to enjoy the experience with a titbit or by producing a toy. Make sure all these introductions and interactions are pleasant and enjoyable. Never force your puppy to confront their fear by dragging them into a situation that is frightening as this will only increase their fear and may make them aggressive later in life. Some puppies can be shy and these puppies will likely need a lot of extra support. It’s extremely important to give them the time and support they need. Give them extra time in new situations as forcing them into the situation or environment can be counterproductive. It’s often a good idea to let these puppies look on from a distance at first. Let them get over their shyness gradually and as they relax and get comfortable you will be able to slowly increase their level of exposure.
A good puppy class can be very helpful for your puppy’s socialisation skills and also will help getting training started. The classes however are not a replacement for the work you need to do with your puppy at home. Check the classes you would like to go to very carefully to make sure that you join one that uses reward-based training methods and that has proper supervision of the puppies and their owners.