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How to socialise your puppy

Donna Connelly, Award winning Dog Behaviorist and Trainer, will give you the best guide on how to properly socialise your puppy. There is no doubt socialising your puppy is incredibly important. You will here learn what socialisation is, how to get it right, and the pitfalls to avoid.

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Donna Connelly - Dog Behaviorist and trainer

I will in this article teach you how to get a confident and responsive dog that can focus on you no matter what is going on in the environment.

I want to leave you and your puppy with a solid foundation to build upon, setting you up for enjoyable adventures together for life. We want to avoid that your puppy is over socialised, where you will wind up finding it hard to get your dog’s attention and to keep them from getting into mischief. 

Read on to learn about

    What is socialisation

    People sometimes think that socialisation is about making their dog the friendliest, most social dog you could ever meet. So many people turn to puppy playgroups and puppy parties where pups and dogs all get together and play together to achieve this.

    In reality, these puppy playgroups can create a world of problems for you and your dog because socialisation isn’t about encouraging your dog to bound into everything at full pelt.

    Socialisation is about building confidence around a world of stimuli so that your dog can be in the presence of something and still be able to focus on you and respond to you.

    It’s about empowering your dog to feel assured and secure so that they don’t completely lose their head every time they see another dog or person.

    It’s also about habituation to as many things as possible, livestock, traffic, people with wheelchairs, people with walking sticks, noises, all these things are a part of your puppy’s socialisation training.

     

    Read on for a checklist of some of the things to include in your socialisation training plan.

    Can you over socialise a puppy?

    In short, yes! These puppy meet-ups may feel like a glorious event that’s brilliant for your puppy, but the reality is that pups often end up overwhelmed, bullying, or being bullied.

    Dog body language is quite subtle. Therefore, it can be difficult for new puppy parents to distinguish between positive play experiences and ones that negatively impact your dog.

    Having a puppy that is overfamiliar or overexcited and wants to run up and greet every dog and person they see is not a well socialised puppy.

    A well socialised puppy can settle in various environments, ignore things going on around them, and is confident and secure.

    We want to work with our puppies to help them see all this exciting activity in the environment and to be able to ignore it and focus on you.

    Don’t panic, this doesn’t mean that your puppy will never be allowed to play with other dogs, quite the opposite.

    We are talking about setting solid foundations so that your dog can play with other well-matched dogs confidently and safely, so everyone has a good time. And so when you need to call them back or stop play, you can do so easily because you have brilliant focus and connection with your dog.

    I like to think of socialising your puppy as future-proofing. When you put in the work in the early stages, you will reap the benefits for the long haul.

    Puppy socialisation top tips

    • Start early - the critical socialisation window for a puppy is between 4-16 weeks (more on that later)

    • Gradually expose your puppy to new things at a distance

    • Use treats to reinforce good behaviour

    • Be led by your puppy. If they’re struggling, take it down a notch

    • Choose an environment that isn’t full of loads of dogs and people

    Puppy socialisation checklist

    Use the top tips above to help you as you work through this checklist. If your puppy is showing signs of being scared or unable to focus, then retreat. Give your puppy more distance from the thing, or return to training another day.

    We don’t want to overwhelm our puppies, as this will only evoke a stronger response to the thing that’s scaring or exciting them.

    Sounds (you can use Youtube to help with these)
    Hoover
    Blender
    Doorbell
    Thunderstorms
    Fireworks
    Drill
    Lawnmower
    Babies crying
    Kids playing
    Barking
    Sirens
    Alarms

    Being touched
    Ears
    Tail
    Paws
    Tummy
    Mouth, gums, and teeth

    Surfaces and Textures
    Soft flooring; carpet, rugs, towels
    Slippery flooring; lino, wooden flooring, mats
    Metal surfaces; manhole covers, drains
    Grass; wet and dry
    Soil; muddy and dry, short and long
    Gravel
    Decking
    Stairs

    Vehicles
    Buses
    Motorbikes
    Trains
    Trucks
    Bin truck
    Road sweepers
    Bicycles
    Scooters
    Your car

    People
    Tall people
    Short people
    Teenagers
    Children
    Babies in buggies
    People in hats
    People with walking sticks
    Wheelchairs
    Men and women
    People in long flowy skirts
    People in glasses

    Places
    Parks
    Pet shops
    Vets
    Coffee shops
    Quiet roads
    Busy roads
    Restaurants
    Pubs
    Countryside
    Beach

    Other animals
    Cats
    Ducks
    Birds
    Big dogs
    Small dogs
    Fluffy dogs
    Skinny dogs
    Puppies
    Horses
    Sheep
    Cows

    Household objects that move
    Brooms
    Mops
    Hoover
    Lawnmower

    Be aware that if your puppy is in the fear period, things that didn’t previously worry them at all, may now be a bit scary (more on this after the checklist.)

    Puppy socialisation period

    Your puppy is being socialised from the minute they are born. Every new sound, smell, texture, and experience is part of their socialisation.

    The critical socialisation period takes place between 4 and 16 weeks of age.

    For the first four of those, your puppy will still be with their breeder. Choosing a reputable breeder should mean that they are taking care of this early socialisation. Talk to them and find out what they’re doing to help your puppy grow into a confident dog.

    Your breeder should be introducing your puppy to lots of new smells, textures, and experiences while he/she is with their mum and littermates. A good breeder will ensure they are gradually exposing your puppy to general household noises, comings and goings, and textures under their tiny paws to set them up to succeed.

    Once your puppy comes home, you can take a few days to settle them into their new environment. This is a vital part of your socialisation training. Your puppy has just left his mother, his siblings, and everything he’s ever known.

    Ditch any advice to leave him to cry and instead focus on meeting all his needs and helping him to feel safe and secure in his new home. Yes, it is a bit tiring, but it will pay off in spades.

    Read our helpful article on how to get your dog to sleep through the night

    If you push your puppy towards independence before he is ready, it will be much harder for you to help your puppy’s confidence grow.

    Socialising your puppy before vaccinations

    Once your puppy joins your home you will still have a few weeks before you are able to take him out for walks safely. Your puppy needs two sets of vaccinations to protect him/her from viruses and diseases such as Parvovirus, Distemper, Leptospirosis, and Parainfluenza. You can also have your puppy vaccinated against Kennel Cough. 

    It’s not safe for your puppy to go down on the ground outside of your home until these vaccinations are complete. Your vet will tell you how long after the final vaccination you need to wait before it’s safe to explore on all four paws.

    In the meantime, it’s not too soon to socialise your puppy. You can introduce your puppy to various sounds, movements, and textures at home. And you can invite friends around to get them used to people of all shapes, sizes, and genders.

    Consider laying down different items and scattering treats or food over and around them to encourage your dog to step on and sniff surfaces that feel different.  For example, you could use a towel, a doormat, a crunchy paper bag, a shiny reflective surface like foil, and a silicone feeding mat.

    Use youtube to introduce sounds your pup might not otherwise hear and start with the volume low or playing in an adjoining room. Introduce household items such as the mop and the hoover. I recommend introducing the hoover with sound and no movement in one session, and movement no sound in another so it’s not overwhelming. Many dogs struggle with the combination of the noise and the movement of the hoover, so introduce it slowly for best results!

    You can take your puppy out and about, you just need to carry them until they’re vaccinated. This is actually an ideal way for your pup to first encounter all the novelties outside their front door. Being close to you is comforting, so as you explore roads, parks, cafes and public transport your puppy will feel much more at ease in your arms.  

    The puppy fear period

    Puppies go through two fear periods in their young lives. The first is between 8 and 12 weeks of age… yup, just as we remove them from their mother and siblings and bring them into a whole new world.

    It’s always important to be aware of your puppy’s emotional needs but especially so when they’re in a fear period. Negative experiences can significantly impact how they view the world, so we want to do our best to keep everything positive and supportive.

    I know it all might feel overwhelming and exhausting for you too, but it will pass. And it will pass more easily and quickly if your puppy feels secure during these critical times.

    The second fear period happens at around 5-6 months of age. So if your puppy is suddenly terrified or barking at objects at this age, then it’s likely they’re in the fear phase.

    This usually lasts 2-3 weeks, so be gentle, give your puppy distance and reassurance… and lots of treats to help build positive associations.

    Socialising your puppy through adolescence

    Oh, adolescence, much like human teenagers, the puppy teen stage can be tricky. You may have nailed recall, and your dog might have been wonderfully focused on you… and then suddenly, at 5 or 6 months of age, it all changes.

    Your puppy is now more interested in novel and exciting things, and it can be challenging to retain their attention.

    Return to your earlier socialisation training, increase distance and choose less stimulating environments for your walk as you work on focus with your teenage puppy.

    Beyond all else, know that this regression is completely normal and a sign that your puppy is developing towards adulthood. Continue to reward good behaviour lavishly, now is certainly not the time to ease up on treats!

    If you are worried about your dog eating too many calories then using a dehydrator to dry your pup’s favourite Marleybones meals into delicious treats is a great solution.

    Is it too late to socialise my puppy?

    If you’re outside that critical socialisation period or even beyond your puppy’s first year, then you can still work on socialising your dog.

    It’s never too late to train your dog. It just may take a little longer.

    When we train our dogs, we break the training down into small and manageable steps that will take us to a long-term goal. The same goes for your expectations.

    Whether you are socialising a puppy or an older dog, set small measurable goals and take them one step at a time. If we have huge expectations that we want to achieve quickly, then our training can easily be thrown off track, stopping us from achieving our desired results.

    You can have the confident, well-socialised dog you dream of. Start small and steady, be consistent, and be flexible to change.

    And if you need any help or support, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here for you.

    Donna Connelly Dog Behaviorist and trainer

    Who?

    Donna Connelly is the founder and Instructor at Barking Mad Dog Training and has been working with dogs professionally for 30 year.

    Donna is a member of both the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers. Which ensures her methods are ethical, evidence based and practical.

    Fun fact

    Getting her first family dog, Shep at the age of 12, Donna now shares her life with her partner and daughter along with 4 Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Miss Scarlett (6), Grace (3), Valerie (2) and Darcy (1). Not missing out her German Spitz, Tinkerbelle (13) and the newest additions Kali (8 months) and Harry (9 months) both Jack Russells.

    Why?

    Donna specialises in helping new puppies and their owners. Along with helping and supporting multi dog households live in harmony and helping rehabilitated dogs with issues such as aggression and settling in the new home.

    Donna shares her knowledge here with us, and we just love learning new things every month!

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