Good socialisation can make the difference between a well-adjusted, friendly and relaxed dog and one that’s anxious, fearful – or even aggressive. And whatever our role in a puppy’s formative weeks, whether that’s as a breeder, new owner or vet, we can all make a difference by taking socialisation seriously.
The first experiences
Being there from birth, the puppy’s breeder is uniquely placed to begin the process of socialisation. In the very early weeks, while some human contact is important, this must be carefully balanced with the puppy’s need for peace and quiet and uninterrupted time to be with its mother and littermates.
Research shows that between 3-8 weeks of age a puppy is most receptive to accepting new experiences in its life as ‘normal’. It’s a survival instinct, so anything a puppy hasn’t experienced alongside its mother has to initially be viewed as a threat. This means that exposure of new things beyond this ‘window’ may take time for an older puppy or dog to adjust to.
As a breeder, this is the time to help the puppy continue to learn from its mother, while gently helping it to have a little time away from her and from its littermates. Gradually experiencing everyday sounds such as the phone, the vacuum cleaner, and the general coming and going of people is also important during these weeks.
Leaving home, learning more
From eight weeks, it’s crucial the puppy continues to build on the social experiences it’s had so far. When the time comes for the puppy to be handed over to its new owner, it’s really important for the breeder to explain the experiences the puppy has had to date, and especially for more inexperienced dog owners, to highlight the importance of the next steps in socialisation. The Puppy Plan (see below) is ideal to help with this.
As a new owner, continuing the steady, gentle socialisation put in place by the breeder is vital, initially allowing the puppy plenty of time to adjust to its new home and new family. And once the puppy’s vaccinated, it can also be taken outside of the home to be exposed to more of the world around it – from trips in the car to gradual introductions to busier places and more people.
It’s really important that every experience the puppy has is both brief and positive, and if it shows any sign of fear, stay positive but move on to something else.
Meeting other dogs
Meeting new dogs outside the puppy’s own litter must be handled with care. Many vets run puppy ‘parties’ designed specifically for puppies that are newly vaccinated and ready for this fundamental part of socialisation.
Meeting other dogs in this way is a more controlled experience than leaving the puppy’s first social encounter with a canine ‘stranger’ to chance on its first walk. Puppy parties are ideal opportunities for vets to advise new owners on anything to do with puppy care, give owners the chance to ask questions – and also help the puppy to associate the vets with a positive experience!
Making the most of socialisation
The Puppy Socialisation Plan has been created jointly by the Kennel Club and the Dogs Trust to help breeders and owners handle socialisation in a planned, structured and effective way. This step-by step individual plan covers everything recognised to help a puppy grow into a sociable and well-balanced dog, and is ideal to handover from breeder to new owner.
By taking your role in socialisation seriously, every puppy has the potential to lead a happy, well-adjusted life, and grow to become the ideal human companion.
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