The importance of correct puppy socialisation
A former puppy of mine having plenty of socialisation – made possible by her puppy pram! This was done before vaccinations but also afterwards so she was able to be out for longer without damage to her joints (or mine!)
She is now a fully qualified working Canine Partners Assistance Dog.
Without a huge amount of correct socialisation and training these amazing assistance dogs cannot be prepared for their future working life.
When your puppy is very young, or if you have a small breed puppy, then you do not need the pram but can of course carry your puppy (ensure collar and ID tag on and hold comfortably and securely) or use a puppy sling.
With this puppy however socialisation was even more important for her to qualify as an Assistance Dog so, as mentioned above, I used the pram even after vaccinations to ensure plenty of longer outings without the risk of over-doing her exercise. She was very happy and calm in the pram so I was able to do this but do remember that all these experiences must be positive so your puppy must be 100% happy and confident about remaining in the pram.
Include training and good manners within socialisation
As part of socialising, I also consider it is extremely important to include your own puppy’s behaviour and how to include training into the socialisation experience – see below for more tips on this.
Be aware that socialisation experiences should be positive
So, for example, for the introduction to a pram, you will need to:
- Introduce your puppy gradually to the pram.
- Associate it with treats and toys and cuddles.
- Please do NOT just put your puppy in the pram and start pushing or they will remain scared of prams for life – this must be a positive experience for them.
- Ensure they are comfortably and safely secured in the pram and, of course, only allow a responsible adult to take charge of the pram.
- There are lots of prams available on Amazon and I prefer the type, as above, where the puppy is securely strapped in but the top is wide open so they can see everything clearly. Or, for smaller puppies, you can use a sling.
Check with your breeder what socialisation they will do, or have already done
This is so very important so if you have not already bought your puppy then please ask the potential breeder what socialistion they are to do, or have already done, with your puppy. If they are vague or seem uncaring then please walk away and find another breeder.
A good guide for what to ask a breeder is the RSPCA’s and Animal Welfare Foundation’s Puppy Contract.
I still see many puppies who have so obviously been bought from commercial and uncaring breeders who have had no health checks, are in bad health and are very nervous.
Nervousness may be due to:
- The appalling conditions some puppies are kept in and bad experiences.
- Imprinted behaviour from a nervous and ill-treated mother.
- A lack of correct socialisation (positive associations with a variety of people and other animals).
- A lack of habituation (positive associations with a variety inanimate objects (hoover, traffic, etc).
Think carefully before you consider a pet shop ‘puppy party’
These pet shop parties are quite unnecessary and from what I have seen, and what owners have told me over the years, they are designed to entice you into their stores to spend your money and are rarely adequately supervised. This means your puppy may learn all the wrong things:
- Ignore my owners whenever I see other dogs.
- Be a bully and play roughly with other dogs.
- Learn to be fearful of other dogs which are allowed to jump on, chase and intimidate me.
- Learn to use aggression to protect myself when other dogs are too rough.
What your puppy learns when he or she is young will have ever-lasting effects on his or her behaviour and so bad habits will be engrained in your puppy’s future behaviour.
Puppies learn very quickly; it is the amazing science of learning in order to achieve survival, and that is why early experiences are never forgotten. At best, you may be able to improve upon some early-learned behaviours but remember that you can never erase an experience and its related emotions.
Unless you have been to watch the events without your dog and are happy that they are well supervised by knowledgeable and caring dog professionals, then it is best to avoid them. They are rarely run by qualified dog behaviourists and are intended to bring in more business for their stores rather than give the very best of socialisation experiences, which can be done more naturally and effectively by choosing suitable exercise areas and visitors to your home and garden.
Please ensure walks are suitable socialisation and training
When walking with friends’ dogs try to ensure that:
- Your puppy is learning to socialise nicely (no bullying and no being bullied).
- Your puppy is learning to focus mainly on you (I like to use lots of toys, games, some treats, and lots of fun with your puppy) – see my other blog on article on suitable puppy toys.
- You are not allowing your dog to learn that when he goes on a walk and is off-lead he can ignore you for the entire time you are out!
- Remember that what a puppy learns as a young dog will be engrained into his education for the future so ensure he starts on the right track, with a good balance with some doggy play but lots of play with you.
What you should be doing to raise a well-balanced and happy puppy
- As in the photo above, the best thing you can do is ensure your puppy has lots of positive experiences as soon as you get your puppy.
- Remember that it is better to take things very slowly than to rush and ruin your puppy’s confidence. This is particularly important if you already have a nervous puppy.
- If you have bought from a knowledgeable and caring breeder they should already have started a good socialisation process and this is something you should have asked them.
- This means very gradually introducing him to a whole range of people and other animals (socialisation) and other inanimate stimuli (habituation), such as outlined above.
- By carrying or having your puppy in a pram, you can ensure your puppy is learning to be a confident and relaxed dog in a variety of environments, with a variety of people and other animals.
- As above, use daily walks for socialisation and play-training.
Experiences must be gradual and never over-face your puppy with too much at a time.
- Carry to a very quiet road at first and stand a distance away from traffic so your puppy does not become scared by very loud, rattling or speeding vehicles.
- Introduce to people one at a time, particularly children, so he learns to associative positive experiences with everyone. Include, men, women, children, people with hats, beards, glasses, yellow vests, quiet, young, old.
- Your puppy can meet other dogs so long you are sure they are fully vaccinated and that the dogs are good natured and will give the puppy a positive experience. Note that some dogs will warn a puppy when it becomes too much and that is not a bad thing so long as it is only a verbal warning and nothing more and so long as the experience is more positive than negative.
- Buy a sounds CD (I used ‘Sounds Scary’) and start at the very lowest volume (remember you puppy’s hearing is way more sensitive than yours) and turn up a notch at a time to accustom your puppy to lots of indoor and outdoor noises. You can also link this with play and meals or treats to further help your puppy.
- You should take your puppy to a different place each day to ensure they become accustomed to a variety of different experiences.
How your puppy should be behaving
As your puppy is allowed to go out walking make sure that good experiences continue but also that he or she is learning how he should behave. This means:
- Polite greetings with people – do not allow to jump up but ask people to bend down to greet your puppy. You can also very gently put a finger in your pup’s collar to prevent jumping up or, even better, teach to sit-stay to greet.
- Polite and happy interactions with other dogs – your pup should be allowed to play with other dogs but you also need to have taught your puppy to play correctly with you so that you can call away from doggy games back to you for fun. This is really important if you want your dog to come when called.
- Make sure your dog is happy interacting with other dogs – he should not be a bully or be playing toO rough and frightening other dogs. I see too many dogs who have been a well-balanced puppy until another dog has acted very aggressively towards them. A verbal warning from another dog is acceptable and normal dog behaviour but jumping aggressively on another dog or chasing a frightened dog is not helpful for other owners and their dogs.
- Ensure your puppy learns to focus on you and never to chase joggers, cyclists, cars, etc. This is particularly important if you have a breed which naturally likes to chase or herd (German Shepherds and Border Collies are the breeds I see most often with this trait).
Hard work pays off …
Yes, it is a lot of work to correctly raise a puppy, but so worth it when you have a happy and well mannered puppy who will develop into a dog which is a pleasure to take out.
It is also lovely when people comment on how well behaved your dog is! And when you need a dog-sitter you will be able to find friends and family who will happily look after your precious boy or girl.
Happy socialising and training.
Also before you buy, please see my other articles on buying a puppy:
Responsible Puppy Purchasing
Essential Health Tests to Research Before you Buy your Puppy
Best Start for your Puppy or Rescue Dog
© Sally Bartlett