If you’ve just brought home a new puppy, chances are you’ve already heard someone tell you that it’s important to socialise them. But what is socialisation, and why is it necessary?
What is socialisation?
First things first: all puppies need to be socialised. A well socialised puppy is better adjusted and typically much better behaved than pups who aren’t socialised.
Socialisation is the process of getting your puppy out in the world and around new experiences – including other dogs and humans. It’s the process they must go through to understand how they relate to people, animals, situations and environments.
This doesn’t have to be a scary or complicated process – in fact, you’ll continue to socialise your dog throughout it’s life.
Socialisation will help your pup grow confident and comfortable in all types of company and circumstances. It’s your responsibility (and duty of care) to ensure they go through this process as early as possible.
Why should I socialise my puppy
Events, interactions and activities within the first year of your dog’s life will shape their temperament and behaviour. Socialisation is about building their character so they can be a friendly, well-adjusted adult who is able to go to different environments and places without fuss, and enjoys the company of a wide variety of people – including kids!
Puppies that are poorly socialised can end up with behavioural issues towards other dogs, people, objects or even specific environments. This includes ending up scared, worried and anxious – which can be difficult to manage or re-train.
The more familiar and confident your pup can feel in a variety of situations, the better they will respond to new or different circumstances. Socialisation needn’t be difficult – view it as an enriching and positive experience that strengthens your bond and lives.
How to socialise your puppy
We advise socialising your puppy as young as possible. By the time your puppy reaches 12 weeks of age, it starts to develop a sense of caution towards things they aren’t familiar with – so exposing them to new experiences early is incredibly important.
But socialising shouldn’t stop once they’re no longer puppies! You need to be your pup’s life-long best friend, guide to the world and gateway to adventure and fun – in return, they will reward you by being a confident, friendly and happy pup that you can take anywhere.
One of the best ways you can socialise your puppy is to take them to puppy school. Here, they will interact with other people and puppies their own age (and stage of mental development) in a safe and controlled environment. Think of it as similar to kindergarten, where children go to be in new environments and learn to interact with others.
Some puppy schools are connected to ongoing training classes. These can be great places to get professional help and guidance with your puppy as they develop and mature into adult dogs. Whether your pup is shy, bold, inquisitive or clever – training schools can give you extra support and help over your puppy’s most important phases of development.
Socialisation and vaccination
When it comes to interacting with other animals and environments, socialisation can be compromised based on your puppy’s level of vaccination. Check with your local puppy school to see what evidence they may require around vaccination. You should also check with your vet about your local area to ensure that you don’t take your pup into an environment (such as a park) that could make them seriously ill (such as places experiencing a parvovirus outbreak).
Until your puppy is fully protected by vaccination, make sure you:
- Check with dog owners before allowing your pup to be near them; dogs should be fully vaccinated before your pup can interact with them
- Keep your pup away from parks, off-leash areas and places other dogs may frequent as you cannot guarantee that local dogs have been vaccinated (serious illness, such as parvovirus, can be transmitted through coming into contact with fecal matter on the ground)
- Visit non-doggy places and spaces as much as possible
- Be ready to carry your pup to avoid unwanted contact from other dogs or soiled areas
Important things to remember
Go slow, so your pup isn’t overwhelmed by too many new things, and gradually increase the number of positive encounters they have. Socialisation must be part of your daily schedule, and tailored to fit your pup’s progression.
Some dogs may require extra positive reinforcement, and other pups might need gradual exposure to bigger situations (or they may become too frightened). It’s important to find a good balance between having plenty of new experiences and going at a pace that suits your puppy’s individual needs.
When socialising, check your puppy for signs of anxiety or being overwhelmed. You need to be ready to remove them from situations if things are getting too much or if an experience turns bad. Puppies are always learning, and you want to avoid them getting into troublesome spots that can have a negative impact on their development. If their encounters can be happy and pleasant, these positive moments will help turn your pup into a confident dog. Choose experiences and people that set them up for success – you don’t need to make anything difficult or hard.
While their boundless energy is wonderful, puppies tire easily. Make sure to keep encounters short, and give your puppy plenty of rest so they can recoup their energy and process the new experience they’ve just had.
When in doubt, talk with your vet
Your local vet is the best place to go when you’re unsure of the best way to socialise your pup. They can give you practical advice on schools and training places in the area, and inform you of local health issues or concerns you need to be aware of.