More than just a play in the park
What happens to puppies during the socialisation period shapes what kinds of dogs they grow up to be.This period starts at around 3 weeks of age and ends at around 12 weeks (contrary to popular advice of 12-16 weeks) and is the time when primary socialisation normally takes place. During this time it is easiest for a dog to establish relationships with humans and other species, learn about social behaviour and confidence in the environment around them. They also begin to develop problem solving abilities, physical coordination, bite inhibition and can begin to form associations. The development of a puppy during this stage will depend on the complexity of the environment around them and whether or not exposure to novel things is taking place. Besides being a time for development of social relationships, this period is also a time of extreme sensitivity and psychological stress. By 12 weeks sociability begins to decrease and puppies may become increasingly fearful to novelty. This stage therefore needs to be handled with care.
“Socialisation is the learning process that a puppy must undergo in order to learn key life skills to ensure that it is happy and confident in its environment, and can communicate effectively within its social group”
Socialisation should include (but not restricted to):
☑️People of varying shapes, sizes and abilities
☑️Learning how to cope with change
☑️Learning how to cope with being alone
☑️Learning how to handle situations of unease
During socialisation we shouldn’t be dragging puppies or luring them with food into any situation. We should be allowing them to make decisions without pressure. Food lures can either risk tarnishing food (creating a negative association with it) or startling a puppy when they realise after receiving the food that they are somewhere they would rather not be. Dragging teaches puppy they have no choice and that subtle ‘id rather not’ behaviours are ignored, often leading to more obvious behaviours such as barking or growling being used to get their point across. Just watching from a distance is as good as getting up close and personal. Protect your puppy’s confidence. Don’t put them in situations that you know will be scary for them.
When it comes to dog play lots of free for all puppy play (often found at puppy parties) will only encourage puppy play which is often rude and excessive. If your dog is playing inappropriately, don’t wait for another dog to tell them off. Remove them from the situation and help them learn what is more appropriate. Socialise with older dogs that already know the rules that can be patient with your puppy and can help appropriately guide them.
Habituation to the things around them is a huge part of socialisation. While we would like to create a good association, there are some things in the environment we do not need to socialise to, we simply want them to ignore them e.g. hoover, livestock, traffic.If you miss this and allow your puppy to say hello to everything they pass, this is the expectation you will be setting for your puppy which will become difficult to manage when older. This can be done via simply watching and not doing anything or engaging in different activities. For example, You don’t need to reward your puppy every time you see a car. You could run the risk of your puppy reacting (this can be simply acknowledging) every car that goes past. Simply give your puppy enough space from these initially so that they are no big deal. “Some things are just apart of the furniture”
What if something bad happens?
During socialisation, its almost always not going to go perfectly- whether its the offlead dog that jumps on your puppy, the car that backfires as it drives past, the firework left off at 3pm in the afternoon or the child with the heavy hand, something at sometime may not go to plan.
Socialisation is about creating a library of really good experiences so that when puppies come into contact with a not so nice experience, it isn’t a problem. Puppies that don’t have a large library will find this more difficult than others as their experience becomes 50% good experiences and 50% bad. We want our puppies to become resilient and for that sometimes they also need to see that life isn’t always rosey. I don’t mean for one moment, that you need to create bad experiences, please dont, but when they do happen, you should have enough to full back on that your puppy can file that book, brush it off and carry on. So your aim? To ensure your puppy has enough good quality experiences to build an awesome library!