The Importance of Socialising Puppies
New puppy? Lucky you! Once you’ve got the inevitably awwwing and cooing out the way, you need to think about socialisation. Pups grow up quickly, so it’s crucial to socialise them when they’re at their most inquisitive and aware of their surroundings – usually between 4 and 12 weeks old. Typically, puppies leave their mother at 8 weeks old, so the first 3 weeks of owning your little fur ball are prime time to get him familiar with new faces, new situations, and new environments. Ultimately, a pooch whose has a varied, rich and positive puppyhood is more likely to grow into a well adjusted, friendly dog – everything a family wants, right? But neglect this vital responsibility as an owner, and you’ll be doing an immense disservice to your furry friend.
Visit your vet
An early trip to the vet is a vitally important socialisation experience for your pup. Not only will this give you peace of mind that puppy is physically healthy, but it will familiarise him with the veterinary environment – somewhere he will need to visit many times in his life. Where possible, encourage your pooch to feel positive about visiting the vets – for instance, reward him with treats if he’s well behaved and calm when being examined. Such pleasant experiences will help offset any negative feelings he may encounter if he’s unwell at a later date.
Invest in an appropriately fitted collar and lead, so you can walk your pup in the garden and around the house before facing the outside world. Certain breeds (pugs, for instance) may prefer a snug-fitted chest harness to a standard lead. Whatever you choose, be sure to check the fit and size regularly as puppy grows bigger.
Handle with care
Always encourage family members and friends to handle your four-pawed companion with great care. When people greet puppy for the first time, ask them to crouch down, allowing him to come to them on his own accord. If you’re holding your little fur ball, never pass him onto someone else or forcefully pull him towards you. Likewise, while it can be tempting for new people to pick puppy up and snuggle him, this could be frightening, so avoid such affection until he’s a little more settled.
The washing machine, hoover, doorbell – whatever it is, sudden, loud noises can be tail-spinningly alarming for your little pooch. However, if puppy is exposed to such sounds from a young age, it’s likely he won’t react in a skittish way as an adult. Allow puppy to experience every weird and wonderful household sound – either use the real thing or play a recording to get his ears attuned.
Once puppy’s vaccination programme is complete (around 10 weeks old), take him on short trips by car, bus or train (always remember to use a harness or safety crate when in the car!) Travelling is an integral aspect of your pup’s socialisation because he will need to take excursions throughout his life – to the vets, for instance. Such exposure will attune him to traffic noise too, which is necessary for venturing out in urban environments.
Consistent, clear commands
Establishing clear behaviour boundaries and being consistent with your commands are essential in the first few months of puppy’s life. Indeed, teaching good habits now will remain with your pup for life – there’s much truth in the old adage, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’. Make sure all family members follow suit and don’t deviate from instructions.
When your furry friend is young, it’s the perfect time to introduce him to a range of new faces – friends, family members, children of varying ages, as well as babies (granted you do it safely, of course!) That said, it’s important puppy doesn’t ever feel overwhelmed. During new meetings, observe puppy for signals of anxiety: avoiding eye contact, pulling his ears back, licking his lips and holding his tail low. Remember, puppies tire quickly, so keep all encounters short and sweet. Familiarising puppy with different people will instil approachability, confidence and friendlessness in adulthood.
Introducing puppy to the smell, sound and sight of rabbits, cats and small caged pets will encourage him to view them ordinary – not something to chase or feel threatened by. Ensure initial meetings are supervised, with puppy on a lead. Reward your four-pawed companion verbally and with treats if he’s relaxed and calm in such environments. If, however, he does become a little animated, then establish some distance until he understands the need to remain composed in these situations.
Once puppy has received all his vaccinations, he can begin meeting adult pooches. It’s important you expose puppy to dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds to ensure he isn’t frightened when he’s older. Interacting with older, well-socialised adults will teach your tiny pup vital life skills such as how to communicate effectively. Always keep your little one on a lead during introductions, and only arrange to meet with other dog-walkers whose dogs will treat your pup with care.
Puppy training classes
It’s never too early to think about puppy-training classes. In this environment, your pup will interact with other dogs and learn some simple commands to support his own welfare such as responding to his name, sitting down and staying on command, and coming back when he’s called. Remember: weekly training sessions won’t be enough to polish your pooch’s behaviour – the majority of the work will need to be done outside the classroom.
The secret to a happy, confident and friendly dog lies in the first few months of his life. Like humans, puppies aren’t born with the vast array of social skills to thrive in a family setup. So, by socialising your pup – introducing him to new faces, new environments, and new pets – you will equip him with the skills needed to live life to the full! These early experiences can make all the difference in the future character and temperament of your furry friend – never underestimate its significance.
Blue Cross. (2018). Socialising your puppy. Available online: https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/socialising-your-puppy
Kennel Club. (2018). Puppy socialisation. Available online: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/getting-a-dog-or-puppy/general-advice-about-caring-for-your-new-puppy-or-dog/puppy-socialisation/