Puppy Socialisation

The most essential factor when raising any puppy, regardless of any background or breed, is socialisation.

Puppy socialisation is simply introducing your puppy to the world in preparation for the rest of its entire life. Done correctly this education will result in your adult dog being calm and confident in every situation it ever finds itself in. They will understand everything that happens around them and will behave in a socially acceptable manner whatever they encounter.

If left unguided how a puppy behaves in any given situation determines how it will do so as an adult, so although jumping up and mouthing for attention is cute at fifteen weeks old, it could be a huge problem by one year old! If the pup is instead taught to sit next to new people and wait for a fuss then this is how they will greet people as an adult.

Puppy Socialisation Timescale

There is a very short timescale to complete this education, ideally it will be completed by three months of age then completely repeated by six months of age. After this point reinforcement should applied as and when it is required. By the time your puppy reaches six months old ideally there should be nothing in life of which it is unsure of because it has already encountered everything positively and calmly.

Socialising and educating a puppy should be fun for everybody, but it is essential to ensure your pup grows into a socially acceptable adult. This process does require a lot of time, effectively, the more the better. So if you haven’t got the time to spend raising a puppy correctly, you should really reconsider getting a puppy at all and perhaps adopt an adult dog.

puppy socialisation
7 week old puppies visiting a lake safely in my coat

How to socialise a Puppy

All you are looking to do through puppy socialisation is show a puppy how it should react to, and behave around, absolutely everything it encounters and experiences. This should simply be calm and positive. Excitement is an over-reaction and will lead to behavioural issues.

Fear is also an over-reaction which will also lead to behavioural issues. You need to set up every encounter so your pup is happy and curious, or simply calm and relaxed. If your pup shows caution or hesitation use treats to encourage some positivity or simply reduce the stress by moving further away from the situation.

You can then take the time to create a more positive approach to that scenario. Distance is an important tool; the further away a stressor is the less stress it evokes. There is almost nothing which can’t be encountered in a fun relaxed way; cars/buggies/gravel/crowds/crates, you just need some imagination and of course some high quality treats!

Basic puppy socialisation video

This video gives new owners an idea of the socialisation/desensitization work every puppy should undertake from as early as possible. Whilst fostering these huge abandoned pups (knowing they could grow beyond 50kgs) I had to make sure they very comfortable in everyday scenarios long before they started growing so big and strong they would be difficult to control. This is what we managed to achieve in around 3 weeks…

Dogs and People

The most important aspect of socialisation is dogs and people, these are the two areas which can cause the most serious issues later in life. When raising puppies I aim to have my pup meet, or at least observe, over one hundred dogs and one hundred people within the first three months, then repeat this again by six months. I want the pups to see every type of dog doing every type of behaviour, and the same again for people.

These meetings will be calm and positive, not over excited, impolite or fearful. This will ensure once the pup becomes an adult they will know how to politely meet every type of dog and person they encounter whether that is on-lead or off-lead.

Everyday things we take for granted are complete unknowns for puppies, so your job as the new parental figure to this youngster is to show the pup everything and let it learn that there is nothing to fear. Naturally its own parents and family would have completed this education with the pup and prepared it for life. As you have taken this youngster into your home that responsibility is now yours!

Here is a downloadable socialisation checklist:

Here is a video of a Collie pup having a bit of a socialisation boot camp with Nahla and myself…

This video shows Nahla helping build the confidence and education of a tiny orphaned pup who was pretty scared of everything! From here Annie was able to rapidly build on what she had learnt and grow into a confident adult.

Here is a video of Nahla helping educate some abandoned blind & deaf rescue puppies before they got adopted…

Dog vs human emotional development

Here is a graphic showing how emotional development in a dog compares to a human’s. Understanding what motivated a behaviour will help you work with your dog and change that behaviour in the future;

emotional development dogs vs humans

Socialising Adult dogs

It is almost always the case that behavioural issues in adult dogs can be traced back to insufficiencies in that dog’s education and socialisation, usually underpinned by miscommunications. In order to address this; I work with owners to primarily rebuild or strengthen the trust between dog and owner. This then allows us to be in a position to help guide and progress the dog through its issues.

Communication is vital when rehabilitating or socialising dogs with behavioural issues, usually my clients are surprised to learn that verbal communication is actually the weakest tool available to us. During my sessions I show how understanding and utilising body language correctly (both reading theirs and using our own) is the most important aspect of your relationship with your dog.

Once there is strong communication between dog and owner we can start working through my socialisation checklist building up the dog’s education, confidence and ability to adapt to, then relax into, whatever situation they find themselves.