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Dachshund puppies in black and white

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?

Effective socialisation is vital for you and your puppy’s life together, as it can have a huge impact on a puppy's long term physical and mental wellbeing. While it only takes a few weeks to socialise your puppy, the lessons they learn in the first months of their life can guide them for a lifetime.

  • Avoid unwanted or aggressive behaviour
  • Help them feel comfortable around people
  • Teach them how to interact with the modern world
  • Introduce desired interaction with other dogs and household pets
  • Increase your puppy’s confidence and self reliance
Labrador puppy standing black and white

Socialisation: Four golden rules

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:

Noises

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.

Beagle puppy lying down on a rug next to a vacuum

Places

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.

American Cocker Spaniel puppy walking indoors behind owner

People

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.

Welsh Pembroke Corgi puppy being carried by owner

Surfaces

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.

Australian Shepherd puppies running outside on a beach

Weather

Things that we take for granted, like the rain, wind, or snow can all be unusual experiences for a puppy. Try taking them for walks in different weather conditions to help them get used to changes in weather, climate and temperature. Some breeds may require protective clothing to keep them warm and dry.

Puppy walking outside in the snow

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

In their first months your puppy is very receptive to new experiences and learning. This timeline gives an idea of the most important stages of socialisation, and the tasks that should be undertaken during those stages.

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:

Find out about the conditions in which they live with their breeder

The temperament and behaviour of the mother and litter mates to be sure they aren't fearful

The level of attention and affection given to the mother and litter mates by the breeder

Check whether the breeder is willing to share regular updates of your puppy’s development before rehoming

Check if the puppies have been vaccinated and dewormed

If you have cats or children it is worth choosing a breeder who introduces their puppies to cats or children carefully during this stage

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.

Key tasks

Get your puppy used to walking on a lead

Sign them up to a puppy school

Begin to set some rules, like not jumping up at strangers

Carefully introduce your puppy to your neighbours and other, friendly dogs

Gradually introduce them to the sounds of the street

Let your puppy explore the ‘safe’ area/garden outside your home

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!

Key tasks

Start to introduce your puppy to more strangers and colleagues

Take them out to explore the local area near your home

Take regular walks to new places with new experiences: the beach, the park, the town centre

Meet up regularly with friends with dogs – this a great way for dogs to socialise together

Take them for regular walks on the leash

Teach your puppy how to greet people politely, and start teaching them verbal cues

Introduce your puppy to busy areas and loud public places

Carefully, and at your puppy's pace, allow them explore crowds on a leash

Explore shops, cafés and public transport

Take your puppy to different places

Frequently Asked Questions

Your puppy’s brain is continually developing and that makes them an incredibly fast learner. During this ‘socialisation window’ your puppy is far more accepting of new situations and encounters. So opening them up to new experiences during this period can have a huge and positive impact on their future wellbeing.

It’s a commonly held misconception that puppies should be kept inside until they have had their 12-week booster shot. While puppies are more susceptible to a range of diseases at this time that doesn’t means they can’t go out at all. If you’re careful, and only take your puppy to places where the risk of infection is low, you can begin to take your puppy outside after eight weeks.

Fear can be manifested in a number of behaviours such as whimpering, going stiff, putting its tail between its legs and also snapping or barking. If you think your puppy has been scared by a person, situation, noise or anything else, walk calmly away from that trigger until your puppy is calmer and will take food again. If you feel your puppy is comfortable, reintroduce them to the trigger gradually and reward positive behaviours. If your puppy is still scared, remove them from the situation. Speak to a professional trainer or a vet if you are ever uncertain about your puppy's responses.

Tips for keeping your puppy calm

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

Training my puppy

Training is an important part in socialising your puppy. The better trained your puppy is, the healthier and happier it will be. 

Training your puppy
Dachshund puppies in black and white