Learn how to set your puppy up for a bright, boisterous future
Put simply, socialisation is the process of your puppy building confidence and learning to interact with different things within their environment - be they people, other dogs, or shifty household objects… (looking at you, vacuum cleaners!)
Socialisation starts at birth and carries on all the way through to adulthood. However, the most critical period is between 3-14 weeks of age, when your puppy is learning to form appropriate relationships and associations to things.
This means that for most new pet parents, they will need to start working on their puppy’s socialisation from day one.
Studies show that dogs who aren’t properly socialised at a young age are more likely to develop behavioural problems like fear, aggression and anxiety as adults. For example, an adult dog who’s never seen a mop before will be more likely to react with fear by barking or cowering.
While it may be hard to imagine your perfect pup ever acting in this manner, it’s important to bear in mind that once established, behavioural problems can be extremely difficult to break. They can also end up being a big source of stress on your family unit.
A happy puppy is a well-socialised puppy. So to give your pawed pal the best shot in life, it’s important that you and your family take the time to give them positive, well-rounded socialisation from a young age.
Quick tip: Good socialisation involves lots of positive exposure to different people, places, smells, sounds, and other animals.
Your puppy’s socialisation period is a time for learning. As their parent, it’s up to you to take charge, which you can do by gradually getting them exposed to as many new things as possible.
When doing this, it’s important to take your and your pup’s lifestyle into account. If you live in an urban environment, you’ll want to expose your puppy to things like crowded areas, public transport and busy streets. Whereas if you live in a rural area, you’ll want to focus more on things like livestock, bird-scarers, shooting and car travel.
As for when to get started, there’s no such thing as too soon. If your puppy hasn’t had all of his or her vaccinations yet, you can still take them out in a bag or dog carrier to help get them familiarised with the sights, smells and general vibes of the areas into which they’ll be regularly venturing.
Once your pup’s received all their jabs, you’ll be free to start walking them around these local hot spots, as well as letting them interact with other dogs.
One excellent way to get them mingling with their kind is through puppy classes. Studies have shown that participation in puppy classes may reduce the chance of your pup developing anxiety or unwanted behavioural traits like aggression. If you are going to go this route, just be sure to find a class that’s structured and small in numbers so your pup doesn’t get too overwhelmed.
Lead by example If you notice your puppy becoming distressed by common triggers like big crowds, public transport, or loud music, show them that there’s nothing to worry about by remaining cool as a cucumber and ignoring whatever it is that’s causing them to fret. Seeing you get worked up over a particular stimulus will only reinforce their anxious behaviour.
Find a four-legged role model Dogs are very good at social learning. So if you have any friends or family members with an adult dog, try to set up a few playdates so your pup has a chance to learn what’s what from a pawed pro. Just make sure you select a role model who’s confident, well-socialised, and - it goes without saying - up-to-date on all their jabs.
Know when to back off If your puppy begins shaking, vocalising, or showing other signs of distress, pick them up and calmly move away from the trigger. Engage them in less distressing activities for the time being, before trying to build back up to the triggering place or object another day.
Puppies are unpredictable. There’s really no knowing what people, places, or things will end up in their bad books. But one thing you can do to minimise the chance of them developing any future phobias is to get them familiarised with common triggers from an early age. The usual suspects include:
Vacuum cleaners, brooms and mops
People of different age, gender or ethnicity
Other animals - big and small
Vet or groomers (Quick tip: Take your puppy for a friendly visit before scheduling them in for any jabs or blowouts)
Bikes, scooters and skateboards
Mobility scooters and wheelchairs
Socialisation is one of the most important parts of your puppy’s development. But it doesn’t stop there. Throughout their life, your pawed pal will constantly be coming into contact with new people, places, and experiences.
As long as you make sure these encounters are positive ones, your pup’s confidence and attitude to the world around them will only continue to soar!