As the Scout motto tells us: ‘Be prepared’. Socialising puppies from an early age sets them up for success and prevents a multitude of potential issues as they get older. The more we learn about our canine companions, the clearer it has become that socialisation is an essential part of their development and one that must never be ignored.
When to Begin with socialisation?
Really, it’s never too early to start the socialisation process. The critical period for socialising in puppies starts from three weeks and continues until about four months of age. It is at this time that these little ‘sponges’ become comfortable in the world around them. They also learn how to react appropriately to other situations, people and animals that they may encounter in their day to day lives. An adult dog that has never learned to communicate with others finds the world a very scary place.
Don’t Rush in
While it can be tempting to introduce your furry little bundle to everyone and everything immediately, remember that they may find things a little overwhelming at first. Be careful to keep all of their encounters as calm and as positive as possible, avoiding any bad experiences. Socialising with a grumpy Chihuahua that nips them or a boisterous toddler that pulls on their tail is probably a lot worse than not socialising them at all! It’s important to plan their interactions to ensure they work out well.
What about Vaccines?
Puppies don’t typically finish their vaccine course until they are about 12 weeks of age. So, owners often wonder if they should hold off on meeting other dogs until this time. The truth is, that as long as the dogs they are meeting are healthy and up to date with their vaccines they pose very little risk. As long as the meetings are carried out in safe places such as the family home rather than the park, there should be no need to delay them.
The puppy will soon become familiar with everyone in the family home. However, it is essential that they meet all types of people, including babies and the elderly. The larger variety of people they meet the better. Otherwise they may grow up without ever having seen someone in a hat or using a wheelchair and become anxious when they see them as adults. This can result in unwanted behaviours such as barking, growling or running away.
When meeting children, ensure the kids remain calm and gentle. Make sure they give the puppy its own space, allowing it to approach them on its own terms. Encourage them to play some fun games with the pup and keep the encounters short and positive.
Other Dogs and Socialisation
Meeting friendly dogs that are known to you is always a good idea and the more encounters the better; ensuring your pup is exposed to all different ages and breeds. Puppy parties in your local veterinary clinic are an especially good way to ‘make friends’. It's a great opportunity to play with puppies in the same age bracket, who will tolerate more hijinks than an older dog might!
And all the Rest…
On top of meeting other living creatures, be sure to expose your pup to all manner of different things such as noisy vacuum cleaners, groomers, the sound of fireworks (which may have to be on a recording depending on the time of year it is), cars, the outside when it’s dark etc.
Remember, it’s easy to ensure your pup is well socialised but it can be incredibly difficult to address the anxieties caused by inadequate socialisation