How to socialise a puppy
Socialisation refers to the process of introducing your puppy to new sights, sounds and experiences. It's all about helping them to get used to the world, and teaching them to be confident in new situations.
How socialisation can help?
1: Time is of the essence
The sooner you start socialisation the simpler and more rewarding it will be for you and your puppy.
2: Socialisation is a process
Take things one step at a time. Don’t over load your puppy with stimulation.
3: Go at your puppy’s pace
Every puppy’s pace of development is different, so never force your puppy to try something they are not comfortable with. If they are scared, take a step back and try another day. If your puppy appears intimidated, rethink how you can introduce them to the situation in a different context.
4: Positive reinforcement
While exposing your puppy to new experiences is vital, those experiences must be backed up with rewards (play, food or affection) to reinforce desired behaviours.
What should you introduce to your puppy?
The suggestions below are the type of settings, situations and experiences that will help socialise your puppy:
The world is full of strange sounds which can be intimidating to your puppy at first. The sound of trains, hairdryers, washing machines, mobile phones, kettles, TVs, music, car alarms and fireworks are all worth exploring and introducing to your puppy at a young age.
Puppies are often keen to explore new places, so taking them to people’s houses, schools, parks, lifts and stairs, buses and trains, markets and traffic junctions are all interesting environments for your puppy to carefully discover as they grow.
Meeting a variety of people is good for your puppy’s development and socialisation. Consider putting them in new, social situations that bring them into contact with new people in a positive, calm way. These can include vets, people in uniform, cyclists, and others they may not see often.
Different surfaces inside and outside of the house can seem daunting to puppies at first. The city, the countryside and the beach are all good places to start. It’s also useful to expose your puppy to different heights, gradients and textures, such as sand, wood and tiled surfaces, so they're not daunted by these changes once they've developed into an adult.
Wherever you go with your puppy, it’s important to stay calm and make them feel that these new experiences are normal.
Your puppy’s socialisation timeline
Birth to two months
These first two months with their mother and litter mates, are vital for the effective socialisation of the puppy. The behaviours learnt, experiences faced and interactions they have with humans, as well as their mother’s health and temperament, all have a huge part to play in their behavioural development. As a prospective owner, you should take the time to visit potential breeders and check on:
Two to three months
From the moment your puppy arrives in their new home, gradually start the socialisation process, create learning experiences and reward good behaviour. Even though your puppy is yet to be fully vaccinated, that shouldn’t stop you taking them outside, letting them meet people or play in your the garden. Just ensure that your puppy only meets dogs who have been fully vaccinated.
Three to four months
Once all vaccinations are complete, you and your puppy can confidently start to explore further afield. This is a key period of learning for the puppy, so the more time you spend together and the more effort you put into socialisation the better. All that hard work will pay off!
Start early in your puppy's life when they are most receptive to new experiences
Introduce your puppy to new things gradually and regularly
Expose your puppy to as many positive experiences as possible
If your puppy reacts strangely, or with uncertainty, to a new situation – distract them. Stay cheerful and offer a treat or reward
Observation before participation
You should always allow your puppy to calmly observe any new environment or experience, before they get involved too deeply. Forcing your puppy to confront new situations, people or places without giving them a little time to acclimatise and make sense of it can lead to negative memories and behaviours . Here are three simple tips to aid that process
Observe from a distance
When entering a new place - like a busy square, a park full of children or dogs or a crowded train station, allow your puppy to stand on the periphery and observe. Offer them encouragement in the form of praise or treats.
Create a safe space
When observing from a distance is not possible, such as when at a friends home or a training class, ensure you create a safe space for them near you.
Encourage calm reactions
Teach your puppy to react calmly when encountering new experiences or seeing something scary or exciting, and reward them for their good behaviour.