The experiences that a young dog has during the first year of their life can shape the future of their character and temperament. Whilst it’s impossible to introduce every unknown object, person or animal to your dog, it is possible to teach them how to accept and not fear new things and situations.
Why is socialisation important?
Socialisation is essential to making sure that your dog can grow into a confident adult. It’s important to get them used to as many people, other dogs and new surroundings as possible so that from an early age, they can get used to the many things and experiences that they’ll encounter in later life.
When is the socialisation window?
The socialisation window is the time frame in which a puppy’s mental development allows them to overcome fear. This window only lasts for the first 16-18 weeks of a puppy’s life. If, by the end of this window, they haven’t learned to associate new surroundings and experiences with positive feelings, they may be fearful of them in the future.
When should I start socialising my puppy?
Before you begin your exciting new life with your puppy, the breeder or rescue centre will have already begun to prepare them for all the sights and sounds that will eventually come with living in a family home. When new puppies are born, they’re already socialising with their mother and their littermates and beginning to learn their natural behaviour and communication. This is one of the main reasons why it’s so important to make sure you get your puppy from a responsible breeder or rescue centre and to avoid puppy farms or pet shops, or anywhere where you can’t meet their mother or see the environment they were born in. Puppy farms and puppies sold in pet shops often miss out on a vital socialisation period, or experience of a family home in early life which can lead to behaviour problems later.
After a puppy has left their littermates, it’s important for them to continue to learn how to safely interact with other dogs and deal with new situations in an inquisitive rather than fearful or anxious way. Until they’ve had their first vaccinations, you can’t fully take your dog out into the big wide world, but you can still introduce them to other vaccinated dogs owned by friends or family members in the home. A good idea is to take them out in the car and invite plenty of visitors over for your dog to get used to new environments, household noises and people. Being exposed to as many pleasant experiences of different people (family members, children, strangers and visitors) is just as important as mixing with other dogs.
After their vaccinations, it’s time to start the first of many walks together. Lots of walks will help your dog familiarise themselves with busy places, crowds of people, traffic noise and other animals too. By introducing your puppy to as many situations and experiences as possible from an early age, they’ll get used to unpredictable things and start to grow into a confident adult. You can use our handy puppy socialisation checklist to tick off each scenario once your puppy has experienced it.
What would happen if my dog wasn’t socialised?
Many dogs that haven’t been properly socialised can develop behavioural problems like separation anxiety, fear, aggression, poor communication with other dogs and even biting strangers or children. A common fear for unsocialised dogs is the hoover, and is a good example of a common household object that is feared due to lack of exposure during the socialisation window.
What do I need to do?
Having a new puppy is a big task in itself! There’s lots of planning to be done and household adjustments to make, but planning your puppy’s socialisation is crucial to mental development and behaviour in real life. A great way to make sure you tick off all the key social areas to cover by the time they’re 16-18 weeks old, is by creating a game of socialisation bingo, complete with a checklist of new scenarios and experiences for your puppy to experience multiple times to build up confidence and familiarity.
To find out everything you need to know about socialising a new puppy, visit http://www.thepuppyplan.com.