Adequate socialisation with other dogs is an integral part of training and managing any dog, and allowing them to manifest their natural behaviours and pack instincts. All dogs should be able to meet, introduce themselves and play nicely with other well-behaved dogs regardless of the location and situation – and problems rarely arise between well socialised dogs, even those that have only just met for the first time.
However, not making the effort to socialise a puppy, not going about it the right way or managing the process poorly can lead to an adult dog that is reactive with others, or unwilling to play and interact properly – which can make walking the dog and spending time with others very challenging.
Whilst adult dogs can be retrained and socialised from scratch to tackle problems and address issues with other dogs, it is much easier to start off on the right foot by socialising your new puppy in the right way from the get-go, to allow them to learn the basic parameters of interaction with others while they are still young.
Dogs are very social animals, and the process of socialisation and learning that a pup goes through with other dogs is something that needs little intervention from handlers in most cases – and in this article, we will look at five mistakes to avoid when starting to socialise your new puppy. Read on to learn more.
Puppy socialisation should begin as early as possible – but not before your pup has had all of their initial vaccinations and received the go-ahead from your vet. Pups are very vulnerable to picking up illnesses and problems that older dogs have developed a natural immunity to, so until their vaccinations have taken, keep them inside and away from public spaces and other dogs.
However, as soon as your pup’s vaccinations are good to go, socialisation should begin in earnest. The later you leave it to begin, the less of the benefits your pup will receive. Adult dogs tend to give a lot of leeway to cheeky pups, allowing some forms of bad behaviour to go ignored and correcting them gently when they go too far.
However, as your pup gets older, other dogs will begin to respond to them as another adult dog, and be much less forgiving of errors and mistakes that your pup should already have learned about by the time they approach adulthood.
Whilst socialising, dogs should largely be left to themselves, you should manage the situations and environments that you socialise your new puppy in, and avoid overstimulating them. Puppy parties, which many veterinary clinics run, are a great start, as are low-key introductions to friends’ dogs and other dogs individually or in pairs that you meet out and about.
After just a couple of weeks of socialising with other dogs, your pup may well be ready to get out there in the dog park and mix it up with the pack – but don’t just throw them into a situation like this at the start, nor leave them to it if they are overstimulated, daunted, or finding the presence of lots of other dogs too much.
Puppies certainly need to spend a lot of time socialising with other dogs, but quality rather than quantity counts here. Try to make sure that your pup’s first interactions with others are with sensible, well-behaved dogs that will play fair and be kind, and follow commands and cues to back off when asked.
Be speculative about dogs that you don’t know that are overly rowdy, too pushy, or out of control – particularly if their owners are not responding accordingly. A bad experience with another dog when your pup is young can colour their interactions with others for the rest of their life, creating an early problem that can be very challenging to fix.
Watching and supervising your pup’s socialisation is not only entertaining and rewarding, but also essential to monitor how your pup is getting on and know when and if you might need to remove them or step in. However, intervening regularly during their interactions with other dogs and trying to manage how the dogs communicate and react to each other can be very limiting and harmful, and mess up your pup’s socialisation learning and skills.
Only intervene if one dog is being bullied and clearly unhappy, or going too far and not being corrected by the other dog. Otherwise, allow the dogs to work out their own level of interaction with each other and learn about each other on their own terms – your pup has to be able to learn to deal with other dogs without someone stepping in every five minutes!
This can be hard if your pup is very small, such as a Yorkshire terrier pup playing with much bigger dogs – and you should of course keep an eye on things to make sure they are not being hurt or pushed around. But a small size does not mean a shy and retiring dog, and you may find out that your petite pooch is one of the ringleaders of the pack’s escapades once they find their feet!
Finally, whilst intervening too often is a more common issue when socialising pups, leaving your pup to fend for themselves when things are getting out of hand – or not watching and supervising socialisation at all – are simply problems in the making. Always supervise socialisation sessions and keep an eye out for flashpoints and problems – such as an older dog getting grumpy or your pup stealing someone else’s toy.
If necessary, call your pup away for a time out, or take them home.