We all want our puppies to grow up into happy, confident, well mannered dogs. I’m going to share with you the 3 most important steps that will help make this happen.
What is puppy socialisation?
Puppy socialisation is a massive umbrella term that means different things to different people.
I like this definition from the Oxford dictionary
- the activity of mixing socially with others.
- the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society
I like to think of this stage as helping my puppy experience new things and feel good about it. But also teaching them how I would like them to behave as an adult dog.
The image below is a great visual explanation
The Puppy Socialisation Period
It may surprise you to know that the puppy socialisation window is at it’s most critical between 3 – 12wks of age. What happens during these weeks will affect how well your puppy copes with new experiences.
This is why it’s so important to find those great breeders who know all about the importance of this stage in a puppy’s development. You want your breeder to have already started to introduce different sounds, scents, textures, people, experiences etc.
How much socialisation is carried out at this early stage will influence how confident your puppy is later in life. The breeder you choose really does have a massive influence on your puppy’s outlook on life. Please be mindful when choosing your breeder.
The socialisation window doesn’t close at 12wks so don’t panic if you’re thinking all is lost. You will still be able to make an impact yourself on how your puppy develops and matures. Up until the age of 6mths they are still very much being introduced to the world and are forming opinions about what is safe and what is unsafe. They are also learning what is an acceptable way to behave and what isn’t.
3 steps to successful puppy socialisation
Step 1 – Build Trust
If your puppy trusts you and trusts you will keep them safe, then you can take on the world together.
Think of the person in your life when you were growing up you trusted with every fibre of your being. I bet they made you feel safe both physically and emotionally. When you were out with them you knew nothing bad was going to happen to you and even in a tricky situation this person would step up and take care of things. You also knew that you could go to this person with any secret and they would help you.
You are going to be this person for your puppy!
Trust happens when you help your puppy get things right and most importantly you let them know they’ve done the right thing. Tell them how happy you are, give them a treat or have a game of tug with them.
This will help them feel confident enough to try new things without the fear it will make you angry.
Stay consistent with how you react to things. It’s easier to trust someone who is predictable as you will always know what to expect from them.
Find a positive reinforcement based trainer to help show you the easy way to train your puppy whilst maintaining trust.
Don’t underestimate the power of play! Not only does playing with toys help protect you from those sharp puppy teeth, but it helps build trust and releases those all important feel good hormones – Dopamine and Serotonin.
Talking of those sharp puppy teeth, why not download my free puppy biting guide below
Step 2 – Go at your puppy’s pace
Is your puppy the extrovert, happy go lucky, roll with the punches type? This describes my Border Terrier, Eric.
If your puppy loves exploring, dives in without thinking about new experiences, can’t wait to introduce themselves to new people and dogs, and shakes off any mishaps then it sounds like you have an Eric of the world.
These types of puppies can handle experiencing several new things in a day and will love it. You’ll want to spend time teaching them to think before they act and help them understand they may come across people and dogs that won’t understand how fabulous they are and want nothing to do with them.
Maybe your puppy is an introvert, has a risk assessment checklist to complete before they try new experiences or introduce themselves to new people or dogs and can’t just shake off any mishaps. This was Bubba, my Rottweiler/Dobermann, when we first brought him home as a 5mth old pup.
These types of puppies like to stand back and observe what is going on around them before they decide if they will interact or not. They will often shy away when meeting new people and dogs. They may need more time to build their courage up to walk on a new surface or run away when they hear a loud noise.
If this sounds familiar then you have a Bubba of the world. The best way you can help build their confidence is to let them take the lead and investigate new things when they are ready. This might mean you stand beside them as they decide if they want to walk over a new surface. Letting them know they have all the time in the world and you’re not going to rush them by bringing out treats to tempt them to move forward or lifting them up and putting them on the new surface to show them it’s okay.
You might have to ask people not to touch your puppy or let their dogs run straight over to them. Don’t be afraid to be your puppy’s voice. You want your puppy to know they are safe with you.
In Bubba’s early days with us we only exposed him to one new experience a day as he found it exhausting. I’d happily let him spend up to 15mins building up the courage to walk a new path and would praise him like mad when he made the decision to walk forward.
If you met him now you’d never know he was a super anxious youngster when he joined our family.
Step 3 – Understand dog body language
To help with step two, you need to know what to look out for in your puppy’s body language.
What are the signs your puppy is happy and loving the situation?
How would you know if your puppy was unhappy or scared?
Check out this quick guide
As a trainer I can’t tell you how many situations would have been less stressful for everyone involved if the humans knew what their dog was trying to tell them.
A lot of problems are caused by a misunderstanding about the way the dog is behaving.
Check out this video on dog body language to see these signs in action.
Perfect puppy socialisation
If you can implement these three steps, you and your pup will be able to take on the world and all its challenges.
Step 1 is everything, it’s the most important thing you can create between you and your puppy. But steps 2 & 3 will also boost the trust between you both.
To help build manners when out and about have a read of my Dog walking etiquette blog
All of this, and much more, is covered in my puppy training course.
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