Dr Sarah-Jane Molier BVM&S BSc MRCVS.
Welcoming a new puppy into your home is beyond exciting! However, it does come with big responsibilities.
You’ll need to think about healthcare, diet, routine and training, to name a few. One thing that can sometimes get overlooked is socialisation. Proper socialisation is one of the most important things that you can do for your new fur baby. So, let’s take a look at good puppy socialisation.
What is good dog socialisation?
It’s a common misconception that puppy socialisation refers only to socialising your pup with other dogs. While naturally, this is an important part of socialisation, good socialisation involves so much more than this. Puppy socialisation involves exposing your puppy to a variety of environments, situations, people, animals, objects and noises, all in a controlled manner. As your dog grows up this enables them to interact with, and enjoy, the world in a positive way.
Do dogs need socialisation?
Absolutely! Socialisation is crucial for your dog and your life together. It is well known that dogs who are properly socialised as puppies are less likely to suffer from behavioural problems as adults, such as aggression and anxiety.
Early socialisation is crucial, as puppies have a critical developmental and socialisation window from around 3 – 17 weeks old, during which their personality is developing. This is when they are most receptive to new experiences and are easiest to train. However, socialisation will need to continue into adulthood with positive, reward-based training.
If your adult dog is poorly socialised, don’t despair! It is still possible to socialise an adult dog. The process will take longer and you’ll need a bit more patience, but it is possible. If you need to socialise an adult dog, it’s a good idea to ask your vet for advice first. Your dog may do well with an experienced dog trainer (which you can source through the Animal Behaviour and Training Council website), or they may need a little more help from a veterinary or clinical behaviourist. Either way, your vet will be able to advise.
How can I socialise my dog?
Puppy socialisation needs to start from birth, so the first thing you can do is to research a good breeder. The Royal Veterinary College has released some ‘puppy buying recommendations’, which provide a good starting point.
Many new pet parents, quite rightly, worry about socialising their puppy before vaccinations. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to get started on their socialisation:
- Start introducing everyday household noises (vacuum cleaner, doorbell, hairdryer)
- Use sound CDs to start acclimatising your pup to common outdoor noises (fireworks, thunder, traffic)
- Carry your pup out and about with you
- Join puppy classes (once your vet says it’s ok, which is usually after their first vaccine)
- You could allow your puppy to play with friend’s dogs in your home if you know they are fully vaccinated
It’s important to remember that puppies tire very quickly at this age, and can become over-stimulated. Keep new experiences short and limit them to 2-3 new experiences per day.
As your puppy ages, you need to keep introducing them to the world around them. It’s important that they experience:
- People of different ages, sizes and ethnicities
- People wearing different items of clothing
- Other dogs
- Wildlife and livestock (remember you must keep your dog on a lead around livestock at all times)
- A variety of different environments
- Different textures of ground
- Car journeys (and other modes of transport you might take them on)
- Pushchairs, bicycles, wheelchairs and other everyday objects
- Your vets!
The PDSA (People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals) has put together a useful puppy socialisation checklist which you could work from.
It’s really important to keep new experiences positive, whether it’s through their favourite treats or plenty of praise. You should never punish your dog if they seem fearful or react negatively, as this is sure to increase their anxiety. Remove them from the situation and try again, rewarding them when they stay calm. Be patient, this may take several attempts. Your puppy will pick up on your emotions too, so remember to remain calm and don’t react yourself.
What happens if a dog is not socialised?
Unfortunately, an unsocialised dog is likely to suffer from behavioural problems, anxiety and possibly even aggression. A recent study by the Royal Veterinary College found that, compared with 2019, three times as many ‘pandemic puppies’ did not experience a visitor in their home during their critical socialisation window. We are now seeing pandemic puppies with various behavioural problems, with many sadly being surrendered to rescues. If you are struggling with your pup due to the lack of socialisation opportunities during lockdown, it’s not too late! Contact your vet for advice.
Although it involves a lot of hard work, the benefits of socialising your dog are enormous! Good dog socialisation allows your dog to enjoy the world around them, without experiencing needless fear or aggression. It is also crucial for your bond, and your ability to adventure together! If you have any concerns about your dog’s socialisation, contact your vet for advice.