Everyone knows the importance of early dog training, but did you know that puppies need to be socialised, too? In order to ensure your puppy grows into a good canine citizen, you should expose him to as many new situations and experiences as possible between the prime ages of three weeks and six months. It is recommended that you begin socialising your puppy with the outside world from twelve weeks, or after he has received both rounds of his first vaccinations. Doing so will build a positive behavioural foundation for your new companion. It could also save you a lot of grief later on, as after six months of age under-socialised puppies may develop phobias, show aggression in new or unfamiliar situations, and be difficult to handle as they grow bigger and stronger. Serious problems caused by poor socialisation can be very time-consuming and difficult to correct after your dog has matured; properly introducing your puppy to new things is easy. A calm, well-adjusted dog can go many more places than one that is primarily accustomed to a single environment or set of people. The aim of socialisation is to make new experiences fun, and to allow your puppy to explore his new world safely. By doing so, you'll be able to better predict your puppy's behaviour, as well as get in some valuable bonding time with your new addition to the family.
Understanding when your puppy is nervous or uncertain is a crucial first step in socialisation. Frightening experiences can traumatise some dogs, leaving them fearful of certain situations for life. Your reactions at this phase are very important, as you can reinforce a sense of security and safety to help your puppy overcome his apprehensions. Signs that your puppy may be afraid include:
If your puppy begins showing these behaviours during socialisation, you can re-enforce a sense of security by making yourself into a safe boundary. A good way to do this is to bring yourself down to your puppy's level and let him hide between your legs or arms. Reassure him by talking, cuddling, and praising him -maybe even throw in a treat or two. Protecting your puppy in this way will build your mutual bond, and help him feel more confident in unfamiliar situations.You should also acclimate your puppy to handling as early as possible. Grooming, tooth-brushing, nail-clipping and bathing will be much easier if your puppy is used to having his mouth, paws, and body gently manipulated.
Getting your puppy used to new people and other animals will help ensure he is friendly and not frightened by strangers. He will probably settle into your home's pecking order soon enough, but what about new dogs he may meet on his daily walks or trips to the park? In order to learn the rules, your puppy must first play the game. One of the best ways to get your dog used to others of his kind is to find a local puppy socialisation group, sometimes called a "puppy party". Even if you have multiple dogs at home, your puppy will benefit from meeting others around his own age with different temperaments; he'll learn how to interact with new dogs and read their body language to avoid overly aggressive confrontation. He may also learn to share new toys as well as how to avoid playing too rough.Taking your dog to a park or open space where he will see other species is also recommended. Large animals like horses may be both frightening and enticing when first encountered. If your puppy becomes familiar with them from a young age, he is less likely to overreact when he encounters them later in life. Introducing smaller animals in a safe, controlled context is acceptable, but bear in mind that your puppy may try to play with them as if they were his size!Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you will need to ensure your puppy meets people of all sizes and walks of life. He more exposure he gets to people with uniforms, glasses, helmets/head-gear the less likely he is to react to them fearfully as he gets older. It is also very important that your puppy learns to be gentle around children. Provide a child with some treats to give your puppy, and be sure to praise your pup if he takes them gently without grabbing.
Socialisation is also about getting your puppy used to new environments - a process also known as habituation - and puppyhood is the prime time to discover new sights, smells, and sounds. One of the best places to get your puppy accustomed to going is the vet. Provided he is vaccinated, most practices will be happy for you to bring your pup down every few weeks for a weigh-in or a quick cuddle from the staff, making future vet visits less stressful for you and your dog. High streets, busy roadsides, and cars/public transport are also good places to take your puppy, provided he can be safely controlled. Finally, make sure your puppy is exposed to everyday noises, such as household appliances, music, and traffic.
This article is far from exhaustive of all the possibilities and methods of properly socialising your puppy. There is much more to learn, but the payoff is great: a well-socialised dog is one that can be trusted to walk off the lead, play with other pets, and respond positively to new environments. In order to be sure you are covering the basics you may wish to create a checklist of all the situations and experiences you want your puppy to encounter before he reaches six months. Socialisation is a key element of responsible ownership, and ensuring all the basics are covered is the best way to help your puppy grow into a fantastic dog.