Socialising a puppy
Puppy-hood and adolescence is a huge opportunity to shape your dog into a well socialised, adaptable and happy dog.
This blog post is will give you a foundation advice to get you off on the right foot.
Read time: 3 mins
Overall, here’s what you need to do
The main thing is let the dog feel safe throughout.
You want to let your dog experience all the events that he or she would encounter in their adult life. You want them to experience all those things, but in a way that the dog isn’t made to feel anxious or fearful. During this socialisation period (from 3-17 weeks), it’s crucial for them to experience new sights and sounds.
Any negative experiences that occur during that period can be a catalyst for potential adult phobias and other problems, so it’s a fine line.
You want your dog to feel safe while they’re encountering the wide world. So, a good approach to take is known as the traffic light system, where if your dog is showing body language that is indicative of a positive emotional state, you have the green to keep going.
If the dog is a little bit tense, take a step back and re-introduce the event at a lower intensity, and work at their level, not at the level you think they should be at.
Let’s say we’re introducing our dog to new experiences. For example, taking them for a swim, or walking a noisy street. Either of these can be too much and the dog shows a sign of panic. What actions should we take immediately, and then how can we re-introduce them to either one of those activities?
In those examples, it has clearly been too much too soon, and I would hope that any prospective puppy owner would think twice before throwing them in the deep end, but say you take your dog somewhere, and something totally unforeseen happens, and your dog shows signs of a negative emotional state. The only thing to do is take the dog out of that situation immediately.
Let the dog come back down to baseline, let their stress hormones completely normalise, which can take a few days. Then, make a note of what set your dog off, and figure out a way to re-introduce your dog at a much, much lower intensity.
Say you were walking near a train station, and really noisy coal train came past, and the dog cowered, retreated, or exhibited behaviour that shows the dog is in a very negative emotional state. Tail down, cowering behind legs or wanting to be picked up for example. What you could do is play a YouTube clip of a train noise, when the dog is at home in an environment where he or she always feels safe. Play that at a super low volume while giving them treats, and build from there.
How much contact with other dogs should your dog have during the puppy phase?
As much as your dog can tolerate.
One of the common things for most people to do is go to puppy preschool, which is great, especially those that are hosted at a vet’s office, because then you are confident that the information you’re receiving is from an expert. A lot of professionals offer socialisation packages, or puppy preschool packages, which should also be considered. Another alternative is to take them to a dog daycare where there are other dogs of the same age an energy level. At a place that focuses on young puppies your dog will be would be monitored and watched during all interactions. Taken out and given a rest when they find it too much or the play becomes too much and energy too high.
Another option would be contacting friends with calm and well socialised dogs and spending safe time with them.
Spending time with other dogs will allow teach your dog social fluency, and develop the skills to help themselves navigate social interactions. For example, your dog can learn to politely request distance from other dogs (e.g. by becoming stiff and looking away) and additionally to respect those signals coming from a play partner.
Not socialising your puppy with other dogs will be detrimental to them
It’s very crucial during the adolescent phase that dogs learn to interact with other dogs in a safe manner. They learn how to socially signal things, and most importantly, they know how to respect another dog’s social signals.
You see a lot of dogs that people may think are friendly, but in reality, are bullies, because they will solicit play from another dog, often very rough play, and will not care that the other dog is sending it very polite, “please leave me alone” signals.
In extreme cases, if you were to avoid all contact with other dogs your dog might develop reactive behaviours. This is where the dog doesn’t know how to handle experiences that are new. Aggressive attack mode can sometimes be based in fear. Under-socialised dogs often can’t cope and response appropriately to stressful scenarios, so they react defensively in an effort to maintain a buffer from the “scary” stimulus, whether it’s a small child, another dog, a bike or an plastic bag.
Can we train puppies as we would when they’re an adult?
Training should happen as soon as you get a dog. A dog is always learning, no matter the age. So you want to be consistently reinforcing as much as you can, as well as, discouraging things that you don’t want the dog to do.
As puppies they crave the stimulus training gives them, which means they’re going to be a lot more adaptable and more willing to learn. Whereas as an adult, it can take a lot more repetition. For example, a senior dog that hasn’t learned to lay down, will take a longer time to make that connection, because the dog’s had a whole lifetime of doing different things, and not getting anything of value from laying down when given a command.