What is Socialisation?
Socialisation is the learning process that a puppy goes through to develop essential life skills and how to communicate effectively within their social group. It is often referred to as the ‘socialisation period” because it encompasses the period of time at the start of the puppy’s life up to around 13-16 weeks old, when their brain is like a sponge, soaking in new experiences.
Socialisation teaches them how to adapt to the world that we live in and cope with every day events. A well-socialised puppy will adapt well and grow into a confident, sociable and happy dog.
Why is Socialisation so Important?
Socialisation is a really important part of a puppy’s development and is a critical part of the puppy accepting new situations and environments, being confident around people and other dogs.
Some of the more specific reasons socialisation is important are that they puppy is more likely to be:
- more confident in new situations.
- happy to be left alone.
- less anxious.
- sociable and friendly with other dogs.
- at ease being handled at the vets or the groomers.
- easier to take out and about places with you.
- relaxed both in and out of the home.
Between 4 and 16 weeks old the puppy brain is like a sponge soaking in all the new experiences.
The puppy brain develops so fast so it is vital that they are exposed to as many every day experiences as possible before 16 weeks old.
Types of Socialisation
Although some of your puppy’s socialisation will have taken place when they were still with their breeder, you are going to be a really crucial part in ensuring they are socialised well between the age of 8 and 16 weeks old. Generally speaking, anything you want your puppy to be accepting of and confident with as an adult dog, they need to be exposed to in the socialisation period.
We can split socialisation into several key areas:
Daily handling is a really important part of socialisation which will prepare your puppy for every day care and grooming and also for visits to the vets and groomers. Getting them used to being touched all over and different parts of the body by you and different people.
Getting out and About
Getting your puppy out and about begins at 8 weeks old when you should be carrying them in your arms or a rucksack, pushing them in a puppy pram, sitting on a park bench or in the open boot of the car, safely watching the world go by.
The next step is to make positive associations to the collar and lead so they are really happy wearing them in the home and garden and used to walking on a nice loose lead so when they are old enough to venture down the drive and for their first walk out after their vaccinations, they are not worrying about the collar and lead and can focus on taking in the new environment, sounds and smells around them.
Another part of getting them out and about is giving them the freedom to be off-lead at 12/13 weeks old. This involves working on your recall with high value reward in the home and garden every day from 8 weeks old so when they are fully vaccinated they can enjoy their first off-lead fun. Any people mistakenly think they should with until the puppy is older but in actual fact, the puppy is much more reliant on you at this age and more likely to stay with you and not venture to far which gives a really positive start to a bombproof recall and desire to be with you.
Environmental – places/different environments
Environmental socialisation includes getting your puppy used to all sorts of different places such as towns, the countryside, bustling places, the seaside, the woods, coffee shops, the school playground, farms as well as different surfaces under foot such as gravel, sand, earth, grass, long grass. Getting out and about in the car, rides on buses and trains are also really great things to do at this age.
People and Animals
Your puppy needs to get used to all sorts of different people during their socialisation period, even if you don’t live with certain people I.e. children socialisation is still critical. Think about people groups such as elderly, children, groups of children, crying babies. Different ethnicities, different types of hair and clothing. Also in this type of socialisation you may want to expose your puppy to prams, pushchairs, wheelchairs, walking sticks other items they may see on a regular basis.
Your puppy will quickly get used to any other animals or dogs in your home but consider what other animals they need to be happy and confident with as they grow up such as horses or chickens. It is also really important if they are the only dog in your home that they have some controlled and positive exposures to other well-mannered and vaccinated dogs when they are young to ensure they grow up to be sociable and confident around other dogs.
Sights, Smells and Sounds
This is a huge area of exposure needed from sounds and smells within the home such as the clatter of the dishwasher, the food mixer or the radio and TV to lawn mowers or dogs barking in the garden. Controlled firework exposure can be done in preparation for bonfire night.
When you are out and about your puppy will need gradually exposing to different types of transport; bikes, motorcycles, cars, lorries, buses to things like road sweepers, bin lorries and sirens.
Getting your puppy used to being happy alone and having regular exposures of time on their own should begin very early. This is an areas of socialisation and is often overlooked when the puppy is young but it is absolutely critical in order to raise a dog that does not develop separation anxiety.
Making Socialisation a Positive Experience
Puppies learn by positive association and one way to ensure socialisation experiences are positive is to use some tasty high value treats.
Every time your puppy accepts something new and doesn’t react to it, give them a treat. Each exposure to something new needs to happen several times not just once.