The importance of socialisation in dogs
What is socialisation?
All animals, puppies included, have a special sensitive period at the start of their lives where socialisation takes place. This is the time when they learn to accept things and situations around them, so they are not afraid of them in later life. In dogs, this window of opportunity closes at about 16-17 weeks of age. Novel experiences, people and other animals encountered during this time, tend to be tolerated and even enjoyed. After this window closes, new and unfamiliar experiences, people and objects will be approached with increased caution. Puppies may become fearful which can ultimately lead to aggression.
Why does it matter?
Fear and fear related aggression can lead to unmanageable behavioural problems.
As well as aggression, many other behavioural problems have their origin in fear. This fear is often due to lack of adequate experience during puppy-hood and leads to behaviours which the owner finds difficult to cope with. The result is sadly all too often, that the dog is passed on to another owner or a rescue shelter where it will face a very uncertain future.
How to socialise your puppy
To be a successful pet, dogs need to get on well with other living creatures. They also need to cope with a variety of everyday experiences. Puppies that are well socialised tend to grow up to be friendly and happy around humans and other animals, taking different situations in their stride and enjoying going anywhere with their owners.
How to have a successfully socialised puppy
- Get your puppy as young as is allowed by the breeder. Legally your pup has to be micro-chipped by the time he/she is 8 weeks old and this is usually done by the breeder.
- Choose a puppy that has had a head start on socialisation, before it comes to live with you. A puppy that grows up in an active household full of other pets, children and sounds, will often be the most robust emotionally. Socialisation may be a much harder task, if you choose a pup from a quieter house or an outside barn or kennel, who may have had less contact with new experiences.
- Once you have your pup, start socialising him/her straight away.
- Carefully arrange for your pup to have several new experiences every day. Allow plenty of time for rest and recuperation in between.
- Take your puppy out and about with you as much as possible, taking care not to overwhelm it with too much.
- Make sure all encounters are positive. Take treats with you and get them to associate these with new experiences. Get them to take a treat from a variety of different people.
- Make sure riding in the car is a regular activity. You can use a car harness but getting a dog to accept being in the boot with a dog guard is the safest and most secure way to travel. Use treats and a comfy blanket to encourage your pup and go for short journeys to start with. Do not worry if they cry to begin with, as long as you persevere daily the majority of dogs will learn to love going in the car.
Make sure you work on the following areas when it comes to socialisation:
- Humans both adults and children of all ages, genders and nationalities
- Other dogs and puppies
- Different experiences, environments and noises
- Cats, livestock and horses.
- Get your puppy used to the vets and don’t take him there just for vaccinations. Getting him used to the sounds and smells as well as the staff, will make future visits much less of an ordeal! The nursing staff are always very happy to see puppies just coming for a visit!
- Puppy parties and training schools. Puppy parties are often run by vet practices and can be a great way to get your pup used to other dogs. Ask in advance what age/ size the other puppies will be as some pups can get overwhelmed by very big boisterous puppies. Puppy training classes are also invaluable so long as they are well run. (Check out Puppy School)
- Buy a CD with unusual and potentially worrying sounds on it. Regular use of the CD will ensure your puppy will be more confident when encountering these sounds in real life. (Check out “sounds for life” or “sounds scary CD”).
- You can download and track your progress with an “Early socialisation progress chart”. This will help you keep track of what you have achieved so far and what has yet to be experienced!
Do remember that your puppy needs to be fully vaccinated before allowing him to mix with other puppies or dogs. Please ask one of our Vet/Veterinary Nurse’s about this if you are not sure about your puppy’s vaccination status.