What is puppy socialisation?
All animals, including dogs, have a special sensitive period at the start of their lives. During this time, they learn to accept things around them so that they are not afraid of them in later life. In puppies, this window of opportunity closes at about 12-16 weeks of age. Anything that is encountered during the sensitive period will be tolerated, even enjoyed. After the window closes, unfamiliar people, objects and experiences are approached with caution and puppies may become fearful, which could ultimately lead to aggression.
Puppy socialisation involves meeting and having pleasant encounters with many different adults, children and dogs (puppies and adults), particularly during the sensitive period of their lives and then continuing through adulthood. During this process, they will also need to get used to a wide range of events, environments and situations.
The most common cause of fear and aggression is lack of socialisation. A puppy does not have to be mis-treated to become afraid of people or new experiences.
Good socialisation is the best way to ensure a friendly, well adjusted puppy
Why is socialisation so important?
To be a successful pet, dogs need to get on well with other living creatures as well as coping with a variety of different everyday experiences. Puppies that are well socialised grow up to be friendly and happy with people and animals, taking different situations in their stride and enjoying going anywhere with their owners.
Sadly, not all puppies are so lucky. A puppy that has not received adequate socialisation may bite the postman or a child, may be aggressive to humans or other dogs, or be very afraid of strangers. It may be very frightened when taken to new places, or to the vet, or be sick through fear when riding in a car. A natural response of a fearful dog, if it has no means of escape, is aggression.
As well as aggression, many other behaviour problems have their origins in fear. This fear is often due to lack of adequate experience during puppyhood. The resulting behaviour problems are often difficult for owners to cope with and may lead to the dog being relinquished to an animal shelter where it will face a very uncertain future or, if the behaviour is extreme, in euthanasia.
Behavioural problems are the main cause of euthanasia in dogs under 2 years old.
Good socialisation and habituation can help prevent many problems. The time to start is NOW!
How do I socialise my puppy?
Socialisation is easy - it just has to be done! Puppies need to experience as many encounters as possible during their first year of life, particularly during the sensitive period, without being overwhelmed.
Ideally, socialisation should start with the breeder. If you own a puppy that was reared in a quiet house or, worse, outside in a kennel or barn, you will have to work hard as soon as possible to make up for lost time.
With any puppy, the time to start is now. Carefully arrange for your puppy to have several new experiences every day, allowing 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 and to keep it safe from infectious diseases. As your puppy gets older, it will be able to cope with longer encounters and more of them.
Make sure all encounters are enjoyable for your puppy. Give strangers tasty treats to feed your puppy and a favourite toy so that they can play. If your puppy seems anxious or overwhelmed, give it more space and freedom to approach the situation in its own time. Think ahead and try to prevent unpleasant events. Arrange for all encounters to be successful and rewarding. Remember young puppies tire easily so keep encounters short and sweet.
Areas to work on:
Humans - adults and children
Puppies need to have pleasant encounters with different types of people and different ages of children every day. Ensure your puppy has happy encounters with veterinary surgery staff and delivery people also. The more humans your puppy meets and plays with, the more tolerant and friendly it will become.
Other dogs and puppies
Puppies need to play with other dogs and puppies. Prevent your puppy from feeling overwhelmed by squatting down to create a safe haven for it to return to if it is worried. Allow it to mix with sociable dogs only. Interrupt any behaviour you do not want your puppy to show to other dogs as an adult. Join a good puppy class where your puppy can learn to mix with others of different breeds and temperament.
Take your puppy to places where he can experience car travel, traffic, crowds, towns and countryside. Imagine how it feels to be small and vulnerable and ensure your puppy is enjoying the experience.
Cats, livestock, horses
Puppies should meet a variety of other animals. Keep your on a lead to prevent it from learning to chase or harass other animals.
At our Liphook Veterinary Centre we run puppy parties. These will help you to begin the socialisation process in a safe environment and allow your puppy to meet others while it is still very young.