Puppy Socialisation: Information for owners
WHAT IS SOCIALISATION?
Socialisation is the process whereby a puppy learns how to develop
positive relationships with the other animals in its world.
The most sensitive period for successful socialisation is during the
first few months of life. At this time puppies are inclined to
explore and show a positive interest in new stimuli. Exposure to a
variety of people and other animals is an essential part of
developing good social skills. Beyond about 4-5 months of age, the
fear response overtakes the exploratory instinct, and new stimuli
are met with more caution.
By providing your puppy with frequent,
positive social experiences
(with people, dogs and other pets) during the early months, you will
reduce his chances of developing antisocial behaviour and fear that
may lead to aggression.
Puppies learn extremely rapidly, and any early negative experiences
can have a profound effect on behaviour, so take care to avoid any
frightening experiences in the early months.
LEARNING TO INTERACT WITH OTHER DOGS
Puppy socialisation classes
Attending puppy classes during the first few months of life is an
excellent way to ensure multiple enjoyable contacts with a variety
of people and other dogs.
Classes should be run by a qualified professional, and interactions
between the puppies must be carefully supervised to ensure that the
interactions are pleasant and no bad habits are learned. Classes
should therefore not be too large!
You should expect puppies to be allowed to interact in pairs or
threes, but “free-for-alls” are not advisable as games can quickly
become out of control, leading to anxiety, aggression, bullying and
the learning of bad manners.
Interactions with adult dogs
You should take your puppy to public places at every opportunity and
let him meet a variety of dogs. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes,
and have different personalities. Some are shy, some are outgoing,
some like to play chasing games, some like to wrestle, some like to
play tug, and some prefer not to play at all. Your puppy has to
learn how to greet and respond to all types of dog, and to adapt his
play style to the other dog – this can only come with practice.
In the park, allow your puppy to meet other dogs, provided the other
dog’s owner gives permission. Encourage your puppy to greet the
other dog quietly and fairly calmly, with four feet on the floor!
You are looking for relaxed, loose body language, with a waving tail
– these are friendly signals. The dogs will approach and sniff each
other (bottoms and faces) and may then decide to play, in which case
you will see some bouncing and perhaps a play bow (bent elbows and
bottom in the air) – these are play signals. Alternatively the dogs
may decide not to interact further, and simply go on their way.
Avoid negative experiences with other dogs
Ensure that your puppy’s experiences with dogs and other animals are
positive and non-punishing. Avoid dogs that are over-boisterous or
aggressive as they may scare or hurt your puppy. As a general rule,
both dogs should be on the lead or off the lead. If one is free and
the other is not, the on-lead dog can feel trapped and anxious.
Try to prevent bullying – if the dogs are playing a chasing game,
and one dog is persistently chasing the other, check that the chased
dog is happy by briefly restraining the chaser. If the other dog
moves off, it is probably relieved to be rescued. If it approaches
and jumps around the other dog it is inviting another game and was
quite happy to be pursued! Likewise, if a wrestling game seems
one-sided, intervene briefly to give the dogs a little choice about
whether the game should continue.
Signals to watch for during encounters with other dogs:
Anxious dogs will show some of the following signals:
crouched/hunched posture, averted face, wide eyes with the whites
showing, tail tucked underneath, ears pulled back, closed or tense
mouth. They might seek to escape an encounter. If increasingly
worried they might growl, bare their teeth or snap. If either of the
dogs in the interaction shows these signs, you should separate them.
Aggressive dogs will stand with a stiff, erect posture, stare hard
at your puppy, and bark or growl. You must avoid these dogs so that
your puppy does not suffer a frightening experience.
LEARNING TO INTERACT WITH PEOPLE
You should allow your puppy to meet a wide variety of people during
his early months. Consider the features that may make some people
look different or unusual such as sunglasses, facial hair, hats,
walking sticks, pushchairs, carrier bags and hi-vis clothing, and
try to ensure that your puppy meets people of all sorts.
small treats everywhere with you, so that you can ask each person
who meets your puppy to give him a treat. This will teach the puppy
to look forward to meeting people and help to prevent hand-shyness,
since he will associate new people and an outstretched hand with
something positive. Once your puppy will sit, people should ask him
to sit before giving the treat. This teaches a polite greeting and
will make him less likely to jump up.
forget to give the puppy plenty of opportunities to learn about
children. Children walk, act, and talk differently from adults, so
to a dog they can seem like a species of their own! Puppies that
grow up without meeting children when they are young may never feel
comfortable around them.
Avoid physical punishment and any interactions with people that
might make the puppy anxious. Punishing a young puppy will damage
your bond and weaken his trust in people.
LEARNING ABOUT THE WORLD
It is also extremely important that your new puppy is exposed to a
wide range of new environments and stimuli (e.g. sounds, odours,
locations) to reduce fear of the unfamiliar. This encourages puppies
to become confident dogs and again helps avoid behaviour problems
such as anxiety, destructive behaviour and aggression later in life.
Expose your puppy to everyday events and stimuli such as traffic,
vacuum cleaners, washing machines, lawnmowers, riding in the car,
football matches, etc. Ensure that these experiences are positive
and enjoyable and not too intense for your puppy. If he shows a mild
startle response, show him there is nothing to worry about by being
calm and matter-of-fact about the stimulus. If he is anxious or
afraid, end the encounter immediately, and try again later with a
lower-intensity version of the stimulus.
Your puppy should also be “introduced” to other domestic animals.
During these introductions
have the puppy on a lead to prevent chasing, and allow the
other animal the opportunity to escape or hide if it chooses. Reward
puppy while he is calm and quiet, and end the encounter if he barks
or is over-excited: try again later when he is a little calmer.