Puppy socialisation is so often thought of as puppies running around in circles together having a blast. But in reality, puppy socialisation is so much more than that.
Socialising your puppy is about exposing them to as many novel experiences as possible, at their own pace, without being overwhelming.
The more experiences your puppy has to build confidence, the more resilient and secure he or she will be.
Why do you need to socialise your puppy?
Socialising your puppy is one of the most important and valuable things you can do for them. So many behavior problems that arise later in life can be avoided with careful and slow introductions to the many things they will experience throughout their life.
Socialising your puppy is essentially future-proofing. By laying good foundations now, you will help your future dog to be much more comfortable in their own skin.
Puppy socialisation checklist
So, if socialising your puppy isn’t just about a puppy play date, then what do you need to introduce your puppy to in order to socialise them?
- Sounds – motorbikes, fireworks, vacuum, baby crying, barking, doorbell
- Surfaces – rough, smooth, crunchy, shiny, slippery, soft
- People – different genders, sizes, ethnicities, ages
- Dogs – different breeds, ages, genders, sizes, energy levels
- Night and Day – Walk your puppy and expose them to different experiences in the daylight and the dark
- Smells – woodlands, towns, different humans, dogs, city streets, foods
- Handling – being able to touch and examine your puppy all over their body
How do you socialise your puppy?
It is not all about quantity; it’s about the quality of your puppy’s interactions with new experiences. We want your puppy to be comfortable at every stage of socialisation, so resist the urge to flood them with new things and instead pay close attention to how your puppy reacts. Does she need more space from the stimuli? Or, if it’s sound, a lower volume? Is she able to look at or interact with the new thing without fear?
Socialisation is successful when your puppy feels curious rather than fearful. If there is any sign that your puppy is scared, then either increase the distance between him and the thing or try again another time.
It can be helpful to think about all of the things which your dog could be expected to experience throughout their lives. Dropping of objects, spending time with others, spending time alone, being in new places, livestock, car rides, going to the vets, meeting children (whether you have them or not). But don’t let this list overwhelm you.
Everyone’s list of experiences may be a little different. Focus on the things that your dog will definitely encounter daily, will likely meet regularly, and the things they may have to deal with occasionally. And work on those.
Ultimately we want your puppy’s socialisation to be low stress, with them feeling in control. Socialisation happens by osmosis. It’s not something you do; it’s something that happens. Do not force, lure or entice your puppy. Let them explore and experience things at their own pace, building their confidence on their terms. If in doubt, slow down!
What is the puppy socialisation period?
The critical puppy socialisation window spans from around three weeks of age to twelve weeks. This is when your puppy is like a sponge and it is the absolute best time to make socialisation activities a priority.
This doesn’t mean that socialisation stops or is impossible after this period of time. It’s just a crucial time to focus on it.
Can you over socialise a puppy?
Flooding is when you overload a dog with a stimulus or experience that they are fearful of. It used to be a popular way to train dogs, but now we know we better. If you flood or overload your dog, then they can shut down. A shutdown dog is not a happy dog. It can be dangerous as he or she may stop exhibiting warning signals, which make them unpredictable.
Ensuring that the activities you undertake to socialise your puppy are moving at a pace your dog is comfortable with is key to ensuring that the experience is positive and successful.
Take your time to watch your puppy and learn to understand their body language. Calming signals are subtle dog behaviours that show that your dog may be experiencing stress or worry. Actions such as lip licking, yawning, and turning away from something can indicate that your puppy is not relaxed. Context is key here. If she’s just woken up and is yawning or just devoured a tasty treat and is licking her lips, then it’s probably not stress!
Puppy socialisation and vaccinations
Most puppies in the UK don’t complete their vaccinations until around 10-12 weeks of age. This means that most of their socialisation window happens when they cannot explore public spaces on all four paws safely.
This doesn’t mean that you cannot socialise your puppy. There is plenty you can do at home and in your garden. And you can put pup in a carrier or your arms for visits into the big wide world. This is an ideal way for your puppy to first encounter new things, feeling safe and close to you while they watch the world go by.
Socialising your puppy during lockdown
This is an excellent video from the Blue Cross exploring different ways to socialise your puppy at home. If you have a garden or safe outside space, then try doing some of these activities there, too, so your puppy can begin to generalize these experiences in different environments.
Online puppy classes are a great way to begin training your puppy without them experiencing overwhelm. Taking the time to start training in your own home before vaccinations are completed is an incredible opportunity to set your puppy up for success. With minimal distractions, in an environment your puppy is already comfortable in, you can get your training off on the right paw.
You can sign up for puppy classes with Bracken Dog Training here, where we cover socializing your puppy safely as well as toilet training, crate training, biting, and so much more.
If you have any questions or need training support with your puppy or adult dog, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’m here to help!