What is meant by Puppy Socialisation?
As a dog trainer I hear on a daily basis the myths around puppy socialisation. Few people realise there is a critical window to achieve this mystic technique and you only get one chance to do it right. Socialise the puppy the correct way and you can look forward to a balanced confident dog. Get it wrong and you can have the foundations for issues later.
I have asked a number of my clients what I mean when I say Puppy Socialisation ? I got nearly the same answer each time which was to attend puppy class training so that the dog can meet other dogs. Whilst this answer is correct, it is in fact only the tip of the iceberg. Many puppies are denied essential learning opportunities in the golden window they have for learning. Missing this critical learning period can set the dog on the wrong path and common behavioural issues can develop which could have easily been avoided.
This critical learning window is from birth to about 16 weeks. This means that most owners only get about 8 weeks and once we have taken in settling in etc this time will be greatly reduced. During this time puppies are like sponges and soak up new experiences, their environment and the training you give them. A good breeder will have already started with this socialisation process. The puppy will have started learning basic interaction with its siblings and mother. This is the start of the puppy learning to be a dog and learning how to interact with its own kind and find its place amongst the pack.
You can collect your puppy from 8 weeks onward and take it home. However the reality is the puppy still has a lot more bonding and learning to do. Some suggest 12 weeks is a better time to remove the puppy from its mother and siblings, however that has a cost implication for the breeder!!
Puppy Socialisation Plan.
The ideal is that all new puppies owners would have planned this before they got their puppy. The reality is most new owners are so consumed with this cute new member of the family that having a plan in place how to socialise their puppy is an after thought. That after thought usually occurs way outside the critical learning window. A lot of owners who have picked up their puppy at 8 weeks usually put everything on hold until the 12th week when the injections have been given. In doing so they have wasted 4 essential weeks of possible socialisation and training. At 12 weeks many owners will start to look for a puppy training class. In my own area of Wimborne, Dorset there a wide range of such classes on offer. From my own experience of puppy training I see many puppies starting their first class around the 14-16 week age range. This is at the end of this important critical learning window. Most people are geared up to getting their puppy to the classes and yet not many will realise meeting other dogs is perhaps only 20% of the socialisation plan.
Introducing the new Puppy to your life
Puppy socialisation is not complicated or difficult to do. The main problem is it is usually done too late. Each puppy socialisation plan will have the core elements in it, yet it will be as individual as the puppy and owner.
In a nutshell it is about exposing the puppy to all the elements which make up the owner and their family’s life. This could be from going to coffee shops to trips on their sail boat. It is about introducing the puppy to new experiences which it is likely to encounter as you all learn to live together. The puppy needs to learn the cleaner is not something to be afraid of and chase. The horses it sees on the walks are not to be barked at.
Expose the puppy in a safe and measured way to a multiple of experiences like traffic and people. From a dog’s perspective this can be frightening if not done correctly. Make it a fun and rewarding experience with quality treats involved and the puppy will log that positive experience for another time and you won’t be having issues.
Some people won’t take their puppy out until it has had all the inoculations, but we need a measured approach because you wont get a second chance at socialisation. With common sense you can take your puppy out and show it the world you live in without exposing it to any risk. Have the puppy in a crate in the boot of the care and sit in places where it can see the world and the many things in it. The puppy is storing all these positive experiences and will recall on them later in its life when exposed to them. If as a puppy it was a pleasant experience then as an older dog it wont worry it. However, if this socialisation was not done then the dog has nothing to recall upon and will most likely be more wary.
Of course a puppy socialisation plan cannot cover everything, but a puppy who has been exposed carefully to many positive experiences is more likely to be a confident adventurous dog and so deal with new experiences better’