Often misunderstood and even neglected, introducing your puppy to a wide variety of people, other animals, places, activities and noises is a vital element of raising a dog. Here is why socialising puppies is an imperative part of puppy training – and when and how to do it.
Socialising Puppies – the Why
Puppy training early on is essential. Incredibly attentive and sensitive, dogs love to communicate and learn much about ‘their humans’ and the environment they will live in during their formative early weeks. Approaching new things, people, animals and situations with an open, adventurous mind up to the age of around 12 weeks, they learn quickly about body language, bonding with people/other dogs and what activities, places and noises are normal during these early weeks.
When Socialising Puppies Must Be Done
Bearing this in mind, the most critical period for socialising puppies as part of your puppy training is between 3 and 12 weeks of age. In other words, if you got your puppy at an age of 6 to 8 weeks, you only have 4 to 6 weeks to expose your 4-legged ‘child’ to all the people, places and noises; things and activities it needs to know about to become a well behaved, happy member of your family.
Consequences of Poorly Socialising Puppies
Poor or lack of socialisation is sadly THE main cause of dog’s behavioural problems, surrender to shelters due to these problems and eventually euthanasia. We’ve all met dogs that meet men with aggression or highly-strung, nervous little things fixated on a single person that hate to be left alone but are terrible in noisy environments or crowds.
People often assume that such dogs were abused at some stage in their earlier life, but not socialising puppies properly as part of your puppy training affects dog’s temperament in the same way. The sad truth is, puppies without proper socialisation and puppy training often turn into very difficult to live with, unhappy dogs. Even the best dog training in the world provided later in their lives will not make up for missing out on this, one of their development’s most critical parts.
Elements to Consider When Socialising Puppies
As the window of opportunity for socialising puppies and puppy training is extremely short, it is essential to devise a plan to ensure you’ve covered everything you need. Here is a rough list of things to expose your puppy to during the socialisation period:
- Dogs (and other animals/pets, i.e. cats, birds, etc.) of varying shapes and sizes
- Children of varying ages (supervising all interactions!)
- Men, women and elderly people, people of different ethnicities, etc.
- Vacuum cleaners, doorbells, ringing phones and other noises around your home
- Loud noises (fire/smoke alarms, fireworks, storms, etc.)
- Bicycles, motorbikes, skateboards and cars (anything on wheels) and traffic
- Umbrellas, plastic bags and balloons (including popping ones)
- Touching, general handling, looking at & touching nails and into the mouth & ears; putting on/removing a collar, lead and/or harness
As socialising puppies starts and finishes before they have completed their first course of vaccination, it is important to put safety first and:
- Avoid public dog parks/other areas frequented by dogs of unknown/questionable health status
- Avoid allowing your puppy to sniff around on soil/grass at friends’ homes if you are not sure whether an unvaccinated dog has lived there during the past two years
It is also highly recommended to carry your dog in areas where you are not sure whether they are safe. A concrete footpath continually lit by direct sunlight, for instance, is safer and less likely to harbour parvovirus than a park with dirt, grass and plenty of shade. When visiting the beach, stick to sand and carry your pup across areas that are frequented by dogs.
Tips for Socialising Puppies
Readily accepting new experiences, puppies tend to be more inquisitive than frightened during the ideal socialisation period. Bad experiences during their early developmental stages can, however, cause life-long problems, so utmost care and attention is imperative. Here are a few tips on safely and effectively socialising puppies during puppy training without causing lasting damage in the process:
- Watch your pup’s body language and reactions closely. If it appears frightened, take a break or tone down the activity. If you see the whites of your puppy’s eyes and/or your pup is hiding or cowering away, it is scared and must be removed from this ‘frightening’ situation. Removing fearful puppies is being a considerate, caring parent, not a reward for fearful behaviour.
- If your friends have well behaved, vaccinated & healthy dogs, take your puppy to their homes to meet them – ensuring all interaction is safe for your little pup.
- Allow your pup to meet and interact with children, supervising interactions and making sure they are gentle.
- When going out, take your puppy along with you whenever possible. Carried to prevent picking up diseases he/she is not yet fully vaccinated against, he/she will feel safe when closely supervised.
- Use recordings of storms, balloons popping, thunderstorms and other noises likely to induce fear responses to introduce your puppy to such noises. Playing these recording while you pup eats – gradually increasing volume – can help avoid the development of noise phobia, which is an extremely common problem.
Make sure your pup is used to handling, being touched by:
- Brushing his/her hair and teeth
- Cutting his/her nails (only the tips, to prevent hurting him/her!)
- Checking his/her ears
Offer plenty of praise and treats whenever your puppy displays good behaviour, during socialisation and when puppy training your pup to accept handling and:
- Ignore all attention-seeking, bad behaviour (i.e. jumping, barking, ‘play-biting’)
- Only give your pup attention when it is well behaved and calm
Socialising puppies early on in their lives is dog owners’ best opportunity to help their dogs comfortably and fully share their lives. Making the most out of these precious first few weeks for puppy training will invariably make life easier and better for your dog and you for many years to come.
Problems Socialising Puppies
I have been successfully dog training and helping dogs with behavioural issues for more than 20 years and can help you if you have problems socialising your pup or have adopted a poorly socialised dog with behavioural problems. Give me a call on 07776 761289 today to learn more.