Why is it important to socialise your puppy?

Socialisation is extremely important for your dogs and puppies as it helps to prepare them for their adult life and the variety of new experiences that they will have. Socialisation helps to desensitise your puppy to people, other animals and changes in their environment.

During your puppy’s socialisation period, your puppy will be learning essential life skills to help them thrive throughout their life. They will learn the skills to communicate with other animals in their social groups. If your puppy is not socialized well in their early life, they will not gain essential experiences and confidence. They are then much more likely to grow into frightened and anxious dog with behavioural problems.

The early days

Their socialisation period should start during their early weeks, when they are with their breeder, mother and litter mates. The first three months of your puppy’s life are a vital time to encourage socialisation and puppy training. These dog training sessions should be kept brief with sufficient rest time in between, as younger puppies will tire easily.  The key window to train a puppy and ensure they can go on to live a happy life as a confident adult dog is between 3 and 12 weeks.

Factors affecting socialisation

There are several factors which influence your pet’s ability and readiness to socialise:

  • Genetics – if your puppy’s parents are anxious or frightened, then your puppy is more likely to pick up these traits
  • Early experiences – lack of exposure to new experiences and potential ‘triggers’ when young
  • Breed – some puppy breeds may need more socialisation help and from an even earlier age to help them grow into confident adult dogs

Before you bring your puppy home, you should write a list of all the likely ‘triggers’ that your puppy will encounter throughout their life. For example, people, loud noises, other animals, public transport, travelling in a car etc. You want to note down these potential elements of life that you want your puppy to accept as a normal part of their daily routine.

Socialisation before your puppy is vaccinated

If you have brought your puppy home before they have received the second of their puppy vaccinations, then you will need to be careful about who you allow them to mix with.

You can take them out to expose them to environmental triggers, but you must carry them at all times to avoid contact with potentially infected animals or contaminated areas.

If you are socializing your puppy with other dogs, including your family dog, before their second vaccination:

  • Ensure the other dog is up to date with their vaccinations in order to reduce the risk of them passing anything on
  • Stick to your private garden so that no other dogs can approach them and make sure there are no gaps in the fence that they can escape out of, or an unexpected animal can enter

If you don’t know anybody that has vaccinated dogs for you to meet up with or you’re nervous about taking this step yourself, then you can take part in puppy socialization classes where people will bring their pets to meet in a controlled environment.

How to socialise your puppy

Save and print our handy new puppy checklist to help you keep track of how well your puppy is socializing with others and their environments.

A puppy socialisation checklist

Starting at home

It is important to socialise your puppy in a number of ways, which includes meeting other animals, people and experiencing new environments. By exposing your puppy to lots of different experiences, you can desensitize them and make them less reactive to future new experiences.

Socialisiation doesn’t just mean introducing your pet to other animals, it means introducing them to new smells, sounds and textures too. It involves exposing all of their senses to things they are likely to come across, as well as random things to prepare them for the unknown. You can start the process right at home!

The first thing you can expose your puppy to is different textures. You can have them walk on different items such as carpet, cardboard, bubble wrap, metal, a yoga mat, wood and grass if you have a private garden. This will help them to adjust to new feelings on their paw pads that they would probably be frightened of if they were to encounter them for the first time as older dogs.

The second sense that your puppy will utilise heavily throughout their life is their sense of smell. Whenever you expose your puppy to new smells, you should do so indirectly. This means not spraying perfume directly near them or allowing them to sniff open jars of herbs and spices for example. Your puppy’s sense of smell is strong enough to be able to smell inside them. You can also let them smell the packaging from deliveries you receive, as these are bound to have picked up a variety of scents on their way to you.

You should encourage your puppy to explore and be curious, but be careful! This curiosity will likely involve them trying to chew or eat whatever you give them to play with. You can let them play with clean plastic bottles, toilet roll tubes and cardboard boxes.

You can desensitise your puppy to sounds and loud noises by gradually introducing them to these sounds. The most common loud noise that animals are scared of is fireworks. By introducing your puppy to the sound of fireworks when they are young, you can remove their fear of them.

To do this, we recommend you play recordings of fireworks quietly for a minute or two, to get them used to the sounds. You should repeat this a few times a day and for a few days and build up to playing the sounds for five minutes at a time.

Once your puppy accepts these noises and shows little to no reaction, you can gradually increase the volume by a small amount each time. Only increase the sounds if your dog remains calm. Once your dog shows that they are calm with the fireworks being played you can reward them with a treat so that they have a positive association with the noises.

If your dog is showing signs of fear as you are increasing the volume or length of time the sound is played, then go back a step and build it up slowly again.

Meeting new people

When you introduce your puppy to new people, you need to make sure they aren’t intimidated or scared. Ask people to crouch down to meet your puppy for the first time. This will help them to seem less scary. Let your puppy approach the person, instead of having the person go up to the puppy. Ask the person to hold out their hand (palm down) so that the puppy can approach them when they feel confident enough to and smell their hand to get an idea of the person.

Don’t let the person pick up your puppy too soon on the first meeting, especially if they seem like they are frightened or shy.

We also don’t recommend using your dog’s food or treats when you introduce your puppy to new people. This will reinforce the idea that they will always get treats if they approach humans, which can lead to them begging and pestering people.

Visits to the vets

Taking your puppy to visit their veterinary practice can help with your puppy’s socialisation progress. At Paws in the City, we know how important this stage is in your puppy’s development, so we will be hands on and considerate when greeting your new puppy. The various smells of other pets at the practice will help your pet get used to the presence of other animals and stop them from being spooked.

Try to manufacture false scenarios with people or pets that you are familiar with but the puppy is not. This way you are more likely to be able to control the outcome of these encounters and provide your puppy with positive and successful experience. These positive experiences will then help to build your puppy’s confidence.

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