Bringing a new puppy home is an exciting time for everyone. It’s also a crucial time for puppy socialisation activities to help ensure it can overcome the instinctive fear that dogs have of humans and many other things in our world.
The reason why we need focus on puppy socialisation as early and as positively as possible, is that because everything that a dog learns in the first 3-16 weeks of its life is known as the ‘Socialisation Period’ – it’s ‘foundation learning’. What many people don’t know is that anything that the dog learns during this period is permanent and will be retained in the memory of the dog for life – good or bad experiences!
Usually as a rule, the puppy will remain with their mum and littermates until it is at least 8 weeks of age so they can reach their full genetic potential. In simple terms, so they can learn to be a dog!!
When we do get them home however it is very important that we then begin socialising them straight away. This means introducing them to all different types of people, different sizes – tall, short, big and small, male and female, old and young, different places and environments, so that they get used to, and have a good association with, being in a wide variety of situations and with all types of people.
This is also important to do with other dogs, again introducing them slowly and safely so they again have a positive experience when meeting new dogs.
We should also do this with every day items that we might find older dogs can be scared of if they aren’t exposed safely to them at a young age ie: lawnmowers, bikes, skateboards, vacuums, cars, loud noises, thunderstorms and firework sounds.
It is very important that these introductions are done in a relaxed and safe environment, with mild intensity that gradually increases in movement or noise to help prevent sensitisation to these objects or sounds occurring (ie: so they do not have a bad experience and become scared of them).
If they are slowly and positively introduced to these experiences as a puppy then you can avoid having a dog on your hands that is constantly barking or chasing after skateboards, wheels, the vacuum etc. which we too often see.
The best way to introduce your puppy to objects for example is to have them turned off or not moving at first so they can sniff and explore them. When they are comfortable interacting with the item, you would then turn it on or start it moving at a far distance and slowly over a period of time turn it on or start it moving in a distance where they are not reacting – we do not want to push it too fast or too close to cause them to bark, cower, back away etc.
Other things you should expose your puppy to are different floor types, puddles, gravel etc. I’ve seen many dogs that are afraid of walking on slippery floors for example which this can be due to a lack of exposure (or even genetic – but that’s for another time) which can be a tough phobia for you both to deal with should you move to a new home that has tiles or floorboards!
Joining a puppy class as soon as possible is a great way to get your dog socialising with other dogs and people. Given the experience your puppy has here is likely to have an impact on its future behaviour it is important to do your research. Finding a reputable puppy socialisation class is also a good idea to help you to do this safely.
The vaccination requirements of puppies attending classes will vary according to the philosophy of the organisation or person conducting the class. A lot of dog trainers will accept puppies from 8 weeks of age if they have had their first vaccination, as they understand the vital role early puppy socialisation plays.
I cannot stress how important proper and early socialisation is for your puppy, as is finding the right trainer or puppy socialisation class. You may even be interested in learning more about this by becoming a trainer yourself – I know it opened my eyes up to why some dogs have issues and some don’t.
Check out the NDTF website if this is of interest to you, or to find a certified trainer to talk to.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog walking, dog minding and dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.