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Socialising Your Puppy

What is Socialisation?

When you get ready to bring a new puppy into your home you will likely come across the term “socialisation”, but what does this mean?

Socialisation is the process of preparing your puppy for all the different people, dogs, animals, sights, sounds, textures and environments your young dog will come into contact with within its life. Ideally, this process needs to happen between 3 - 13 weeks. 

Typically, puppies go to their new homes at around 8 weeks, so a lot of the socialisation process falls to the breeder, this is why picking the right breeder is so important. Make sure your breeder has a socialisation plan which you can take over once you’ve picked your new puppy up. 

Exposure is Everything

The goal of socialisation is to produce neutral, or positive, associations with anything and everything that your dog will come into contact with through gentle exposure instead of developing negative or frightening associations which can lead to problems later on. 

The term “socialisation” can often be misinterpreted as social interaction. A common problem we are seeing in our job are dogs who have been allowed, or even encouraged, to greet and play with every person/dog they meet. These dogs come to us with problems such as barking and lunging on the lead each time they see a new person/dog, ignoring their owner and avoiding being caught. This is because, as a puppy, that is what they got to do - meet new people and then get petted or treated. This is why we are more interested in promoting neutral or positive experiences to reduce fear than interactions. 

It is also important to note that not every dog wants to meet new people and being petted by strangers can be very scary. If everytime you go out with your new puppy you have people say hello and pet it so it isn’t scared of people when it grows up you might be, accidently, doing more harm than good. You are teaching your puppy that scary people will always be coming up to it and touching it. 

Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not NEED to have lots of doggy and people friends. A dog doesn’t have to love every other person and dog out there. So rather than our end goal being friendliness, our desire with exposure is to create dogs that are stable in temperament, non reactive and engaged with their handler. 

Do’s & Don’ts

Do - Enroll your puppy into a Puppy Training Class. Pick a qualified and experienced trainer who keeps up with modern research. A good trainer will know that leaving a group of puppies off lead to “get on with it” can be very damaging to a puppy’s social development.

Do - Expose your new puppy to different environments, gently.

Do - Pair new experiences with food or play. Whether meeting a new person or brushing your puppy for the first time, use treats or toys to build a positive association to the things around them.

Do - Learn canine body language so you can determine if you are building a neutral or positive association to the world around your pup, not creating anxiety or fear. 

Do - Start at home. When you first bring your puppy home everything is new. Give your puppy time to get used to family members, other pets, and sounds in the household. Your puppy will also need to learn about grooming, handling, postal deliveries, home appliances (such as the washing machine & hoover), visitors, holiday decorations and so much more.

Do - Plan ahead. First choose quieter, low distraction environments. Take a mat or bed to help your pup settle with something for them to do (e.g. stuffed Kong or liki mat). Take plenty of treats and your pup's favourite toy to interact with your puppy, building focus on you in different environments.

Don’t - Take your puppy everywhere. If your puppy is nervous or frightened of traffic, do not take it next to a busy road. Make sure you go at your puppy’s pace and seek help from your dog trainer if/when needed.

Don’t - Take your new puppy to the park and let it meet a group of dogs you don’t know. Strange dogs are unpredictable and bad experiences early on can be traumatising for a young pup.

Don’t - Use tools that can harm, startle or scare your puppy. 

Don’t - Force your puppy. Allowing your puppy to become scared, for example letting someone hold them when they are frightened, could turn a little nervousness into a much bigger problem.  

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