Socialisation is the term describing the process by which a dog learns to relate to people, other dogs and his environment. Your dog will carry on learning throughout his whole life, however, puppy hood is the time when experiences – good or bad – have an optimum impact. These experiences are critical for your puppy’s future and will have a long lasting effect on his behaviour throughout his life.

When acquiring a puppy, ensure that you have time to invest in an intensive socialisation programme during his early weeks with you. Socialising your puppy is very important and a worthwhile investment into your and your puppy’s future, as you are laying the foundation for the dog’s behaviour later on in life, and prevention is much better than cure. Additionally, this is also great fun and you will be getting to know your puppy very well during this time.

It is essential that you start the socialisation programme as soon as you acquire your puppy. Following your puppy’s vaccination programme is often seen as a hindrance to socialisation, but with some imagination this can be done without compromising his vaccinations. Much of the early socialisation can be done in your home. Additionally, the risk of your puppy contracting an infectious disease can be minimised by carrying him when he is outside your home.

Identify situations and environments that your puppy will need to be comfortable with, such as riding in the car, meeting the postman, having contact with the children next door (and children in general), walking along the street, tolerating large lorries and cars, horses, vacuum cleaners, washing machines – to name just a few. You are basically aiming at preparing your puppy for all eventualities, so that whenever he encounters anyone or anything new, he will greet it with inquisitiveness rather than fear or aggression. Expose your puppy to all sights and sounds gradually and allow him to explore and learn for himself; for example, switch on the vacuum cleaner in another room to avoid startling him by a sudden loud noise and let him go to find it. Ensure that when he finds it, it is rewarding rather than threatening. You can simply do this by placing a piece of food next to the vacuum cleaner. If your puppy is quite shy and frightened, you can start off by having a snack next to the switched off vacuum cleaner, and then work your way towards your puppy tolerating it when it is switched on.

It is essential that your dog is fully comfortable to be with people and children, so introduce him to all sorts of different people. Let him meet people of all descriptions – bearded, thin, overweight, tall, wearing hats or glasses, carrying bags, pushing bicycles, etc. When taking your puppy for a walk, take some tasty snacks with you and ask people to give one to your puppy, and your puppy will soon learn that all people are friendly (You can incoorporate some basic training into this by teaching him to sit before people give him a snack – this will prevent him jumping up at strangers).

If you don’t have any children, borrow some for short periods of time! It is, however, important that children are taught the rules of handling puppies, and an adult should always supervise children and dogs. Children may be seen as a different species to adults by dogs, as they move differently, speak differently and react differently to adults. Start slowly by spending time in and around children’s parks where your puppy will learn the sights and sounds of children playing, then ask the children to come and interact with your puppy wherever possible. Start by having just a few children around your puppy, then build up to a larger number.

It is, of course, unrealistic and even impossible to expose your young dog to everything that he is likely to meet in his future years. However, if you can teach him that new experiences are pleasant, he will grow up learning that unknown things and situations are something to explore, rather than to be fearful of. But do not be surprised if your previously confident puppy starts to show apprehension towards objects that he was previously fine with during his juvenile period (at approximately 14 months of age, dependant on the breed), since this can be normal in some dogs at this age. If this occurs, it is important that you carry on with your socialisation programme by re-exposing the young dog to novel experiences on a regular basis.

It is also essential that your puppy learns to interact with other dogs correctly. Puppies, like all young animals, love to play and games play a vital part of a dog’s development. Dogs develop their canine communication skills through playing with other dogs as puppies. Bite inhibition is one behaviour, which is taught through play. When puppies play physical games, they soon learn that a litter mate or adult dog will not tolerate sharp teeth pulling on ears or necks. If a puppy “bites” another dog too hard, he will get a quick reprimand and the other dog stops the game for a brief moment. A puppy soon learns to inhibit the strength of his “bites” and will cease to bite too hard when playing with other dogs. You and your family should continue the teaching of bite inhibition. Whenever your puppy uses his teeth on your skin, you should respond with a sharp yelp of pain (even if it does not hurt!), as this will teach your puppy to learn that touching human skin with his teeth is not allowed, no matter how gentle he is. Additionally, the game you and your puppy were playing should cease momentarily, and your puppy will quickly learn that in order to continue having fun he must not “bite” you.

One way of getting good socialisation with other dogs and puppies is by attending so called ‘puppy parties’ at your local veterinary clinic or your local dog training group, where your puppy can meet other dogs (and other people) in a friendly and structured environment.

 

This information is referenced from the Waltham website which can be located at www.waltham.com

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