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Why Puppy Socialisation is Critical!

by Jim Stephens, Chair IKC Health & Welfare Committee

Why Puppy Socialisation is Critical!

Socialising your pup  during cocooning and social isolation/ distancing 

During the current Corona virus pandemic it may be more difficult to socialise your new puppy. We are all advised to stay at  home or practice social distancing when outside and this can interfere with the correct socialisation of puppies. Whether you are the breeder or the new owner, it’s important that you try to continue with socialising your young dog and  you may need to think creatively as to how you can do this during the sensitive period of 4 to 16 weeks of age. For example you can expose your pup to “different” people by dressing up or changing your perfume, aftershaves and deodorants, wear hats inside the house, imitate the walk of the elderly with golf clubs as walking sticks, wear different gloves when petting, grooming or holding the puppy. 

Puppy socialisation

A dog’s brain develops considerably from 4 weeks of 16 weeks of age. During this time, the so called sensitive period, your puppy will be exposed to many different stimuli and the more your puppy meets during this period the more relaxed and confident will be the future adult dog. Your puppy at this age is very much like a toddler busily exploring its environment with a resilience to bounce back from meeting new things. After 16 weeks of age your puppy is more like a 3 year old, shy and more likely to hide behind moms legs when meeting new people.

A puppy which has not been well socialised, or insufficiently exposed to everyday objects and sounds can become an anxious adult dog with fear issues and possible aggression. This is why pups which have been obtained from commercial breeders or have been kept outside of the family home, perhaps in a shed or out building, often develop behavioural problems in the future.

A responsible breeder will already have  started the process of socialisation before you obtain the puppy. A puppy  which has been brought up inside the house of the breeder will already have been exposed to the sounds of domestic appliances, TVs, radio’s vacuum cleaners etc as well as perhaps a variety of people.Your job as the new owner is to continue socialisation throughout the sensitive period in a safe and positive way. Exposure to the lots of different sounds, smells and textures will prepare the pup for when it has been vaccinated and is ready to go outside into the real and potentially frightening new world of traffic, other dogs, and other environmental challenges. Think ahead and if possible expose your pup to things it will meet in the future. For example a pup obtained in Spring will not be exposed to the noise of fireworks until October. Better to download sounds of fireworks in Spring and to play them during “good times” such as play and meal times so that your pup is better able to cope later. Similarly if you obtain a pup in autumn you will need to bring out the lawn mower on a regular basis so that your adult dog isn’t challenged by the strange sounding and smelling “beast” that suddenly appears from  the garden shed.

Meeting new stimuli should be rewarding for your puppy so be prepared  to use food treats of high value when exposing your pup to novel objects. Be prepared to introduce  your pup to the postman, bin collectors and delivery men (those that in the pup’s eyes invade its home ). Pair such meetings with tid-bits so your dog enjoys the training and sees these necessary visitors as a positive experience.

Take your puppy, even before vaccinations are finished, outside in your arms to see, hear and smell traffic in all its forms from cyclists to heavy goods vehicles , cars and buses. Alternatively for larger breeds, sit with your pup  near an open window for the same effect, or put into the car and park near traffic with the window down.

Don’t try to overburden the puppy with too much exposure all at once. Two or three novel experiences for a couple of days is fine before adding in new experiences and then fading out the older ones to a random weekly exposure. Keep the experience fun for you and your pup.

Below is a checklist of stimuli you should to which you should expose your pup. By no means exhaustive, the list will provide you with the basics so that your  puppy can have the best start to become a well socialised and confident member of your family. Most sounds such as fireworks and storms can be downloaded from the internet or are available  as CDs to play.

Surfaces

Concrete
Slippery floors
Metal surfaces
Wobbly surfaces
Plastic
Stairs
Wet grass
Mud
Gravel
Puddles and water features
Noises

Thunder
Fireworks
Babies and children
Alarms and sirens
Dogs barking
Doorbell
Traffic
Vacuum
Hair-dryer

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