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Socialisation for Puppies

From a puppy’s adorable eyes, soft fur, playfulness and puppy smell, there is truly nothing better than spending time with a puppy. Watching them grow and develop is magical. Often dog guardians though need a little support and one question that pops up is, what is socialisation?

What is Socialisation?

Puppy socialisation begins from birth, learning about the sights, sounds, textures of their world and the world of humans. Puppies are able to recognise their littermates at 4 to 5 weeks and form attachments to humans and other animals during primary socialisation. Regular positive human handling of puppies during the primary period and stimulation has been shown in a study that dogs are more resilient to stress as an adult. (Howell et al, 2015) Finding a breeder that has begun careful socialisation and habituation, looking at the environment of the puppies and littermate interactions is important for choosing the right companion. A puppy's early social contact and habituation to different stimuli, objects, loud noises such as traffic and exposure to different environments are the foundations for a dog to be able to cope with further environments as well as form bonds with humans. (Serpell & Jagoe, 1995) This introduction to the world reduces a dog perhaps becoming fearful or anxious later on.

Socialising your puppy to the world and creating positive associations to different environments and stimuli is key for your puppy to confidently live in our human world. Socialising does not just mean to other canine friends but to a car, the hoover, bikes, prams, children, traffic, different people, textures, sand, water, in fact as many experiences as possible. However, make sure that each experience is positive and at the puppy’s pace and distance, they are comfortable with. For example, introduce a hoover at a distance, with one person playing or sprinkling treats into a snufflemat with puppy, while another turns a hoover on and then off. This can be repeated, switching the hoover on and off. Associating the sound and movement of the hoover slowly, building up time the hoover is switched on with yummy and good things. This is part of ‘desensitisation’ to a new stimulus.

Socialisation is much more than socialising our puppies with other puppies and dogs. Capturing calm behaviour and interactions is more important socially, than allowing dogs free play that could lead to overstimulation and unwanted learnt behaviour. Many adult dogs are not tolerant of puppies, which could lead to negative experiences or injury. Always think quality over quantity with social experiences. Working with a reward-based dog trainer will give you further guidance and many professionals offer guided walks, helping dog guardians with positive dog-dog interactions and building confidence.

Training, or rather teaching our dogs wanted behaviours and cues, is key to puppy development, using reward-based methods for husbandry and cooperative care. In the case of my Sled Dogs coat care was important so training began from the moment my dogs arrived. Grooming is now a positive experience along with handling for veterinary consults, to nail clipping. Okami likes to sit on the sofa as I trim his nails. We encourage our puppy training clients to take their puppies to cafes, charity shops for treats, Chipping Sodbury has some of the loveliest staff that welcome dogs and who have yummy treats in a jar. Different textures under their paws like sand, concrete, gravel and grass, walks past other animals and traffic. A stroll around a pet store is a fun and positive experience, from the yummy food, sniffs and new scents, to the meeting of other dogs and people. Take yummy treats with you, rewarding wanted behaviour and supporting positive associations. If your puppy shows any signs of fear (lip licking, blinking, tension) or reluctance, increase your distance from the stimulus that may be causing your puppy concern. Scatter some treats into grass to encourage your puppy to snuffle. This will create again a positive association with the new stimulus but is at a distance your puppy is relaxed and comfortable. Our dogs love a Sniffari Adventure! Get creative at home too! Fill a cardboard box with toys, some treats, toilet rolls etc and encourage your puppy to explore and explode. The noises, bangs and movement is all good exposure to sound and scent. Hide treats around an area in your home or a trail in the garden and encourage your puppy to sniff and use their nose. A dog’s olfactory system is incredible.

This article from the Dogs Trust has great information.

Dogs Trust also have sound therapy files too. Dogs that are safely and gradually exposed to many different experiences, including loud noises, during their essential socialisation period of 3 to 16 weeks of age, are often able to cope more effectively with novel, frightening sounds like fireworks or loud engine noises.

Puppy Culture Learning References: Miklosi. A, Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and cognition, 2016 Serpell. J, The Domestic Dog, 2018 Tiffani J Howell, Tammie King, Pauleen C Bennett, Dove Press journal: Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports. Puppy parties and beyond: the role of early age socialization practices on adult dog behaviour, 2015


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