Last week we looked at what Puppy Socialisation is NOT, so now let’s look at what it is, and how to go about it in the right way.
When does Puppy Socialisation occur?
Primary Socialisation occurs roughly between the ages of 3 and 5 weeks – so well before you get your pup home. Puppies learn to communicate with other dogs, through their littermates and mother. It happens through play, and it’s where we currently believe puppies learn bite inhibition (i.e., not to bite too hard).
Secondary Socialisation has a larger window, from about 6 to 16 weeks. Pups continue to learn social skills, and they start to learn about adapting to the human world. Puppies can learn to interact with and receive rewards from humans.
During this timeframe, from about 8-10 weeks, pups go through what’s known as a fear period. They are more sensitive to traumatic and adverse events. It’s essential to avoid incidents that may generate fear or other intense negative emotions, like for example, traumatic vet visits.
Some breeders are starting to hold onto puppies for a little longer than eight weeks, which means they’re not being taken away from their litters within the fear period. But there are also cons to this, as then you have little to no participation during this key time in their lives.
What is the point of Puppy Socialisation?
In the wild, pups meet everyone and everything that’s to be a good part of their life early on, so anything new that comes along after that time gets seen as a threat.
That belief system has stayed with our dogs, so we have that window to introduce them to everything good in their life.
How do you Socialise a Puppy?
What do you need to include?
You should be exposing your puppy to people, animals, environments and situations that they are likely to experience throughout your life together – things that are relevant to you and your lifestyle.
Trips to the vets where nothing bad happens are essential for all puppies – getting them used to the sights, sounds and smells.
If you plan for your little one to be an office dog, then trips into your office can be useful, even if you don’t stay for long . remember to tell colleagues not to overwhelm him. Share our article on How to Approach Dogs Correctly.
If there are children in your life, get your pup used to them, if you drive, take them on a short car journey.
Don’t forget public transport, living in West London, the underground and buses are useful, as well as the lifts in the stations.
What do you need to do during these encounters?
First, be calm and positive. Your energy will be picked up on by your pup.
Second is a Health and Safety concern. Your pup will likely not have had final vaccinations, or be in the cooldown period after them. You can carry your puppy outside your home, and you can put them on the floor only where you can 10%% guarantee that there will have been no un-vaccinated dogs. So, for example, if you visit a friend’s house to introduce your pup to another dog, and that dog has had his vaccinations, and no other dogs have been there, you can put your puppy down on the floor (remember to supervise the WHOLE time though). If you’re going to the vet, or to a cafe, then no. Keep your pup in your arms or on your lap.
Third, have plenty of high value treats with you – once that your pup loves. And keep those treats flowing. You want everything about each of these experiences to be happy and joyful for your dog.
Next, watch your pup – if they seem unsure, uncomfortable or scared about anything, help them out. That might mean leaving the situation, it may mean just giving your pup some reassurance via verbal comforts, or they may need a calming touch. Try throwing a treat away from the stimulus, and then they have the choice to move back closer if they wish, but you’ve helped take some pressure off.
Finally, take your time. Don’t rush around trying to fit in a million things in one day. Each of these experiences will be very tiring for your pup, and you want to make sure they have time and space to digest what’s happened in between each one. It’s more important to get a few done really well than rushing through a large number, and none of them being positive.
Is it too late to Socialise a Dog after 16 weeks?
Every dog is different, and no dog just has an off switch for Socialisation at the point they turn 16 weeks.
That being said, the older a dog is, the harder it is to get them used to new scenarios. But, it’s not impossible – just harder and in need of more patience on your part.
BUT if a dog has been socialised well when they were a pup – and this is where it’s important to prioritise quality over quantity – they tend to deal better with new and novel situations than those who didn’t have great Socialisation. So, for example, a well-socialised dog should deal with moving house or having a new puppy brought into their lives better than a dog who didn’t experience a favourable Socialisation period.