Lesson 3

Early Socialisation Is A Must

Strategies for socialising the litter help ensure each puppy a bright future — whether as a show dog, performance competitor, or pet.

Whether home companion, show dog, or performance dog, early socialisation and mental conditioning is a must for puppies.

Socialisation methods and advice abound in books and on the Internet. Many studies have shown that it is critical to handle puppies regularly from the earliest age. Once their eyes are open, an easy and fun socialisation exercise is simply to get down on the floor and play with the puppies.

Tiny ones can be started on the grooming table as soon as their eyes are open. I keep in the puppy room a ringside table used for toy breeds, so it is easy to pop each baby on the table a few times a day for a few seconds at a time. Once they are eating solid food, a tasty treat, such as a little piece of cheese—and a big helping of praise—can help to instill positive memories of the table that may help make future grooming times more pleasant for all.

We host “meet the puppies” parties for each litter, inviting friends and family to come and greet the new arrivals. Since we don’t have children at home, young guests are particularly welcome. There is always an ex-pen with shelter available so the puppies can have frequent breaks between play and affection sessions. Of course, we keep a close eye on both human and canine little ones to ensure that everyone is “playing nice.”

Long walks, runs, or any type of forced activity isn’t recommended for growing bones. However, a short stroll around the neighborhood or at the park is another good way for puppies to make new friends. I know many people who also like to take their puppies to pet-supply stores that welcome four-legged customers. This is another good way to meet new people—all undertaken once the appropriate vaccinations have been administered.

What about timid puppies? Some puppies can be intimidated by new situations, and all can go through a fear period, so we are careful to treat these babies especially gently and encourage rather than force them to experience—and ultimately enjoy—new situations. Taking the time to learn what your puppy loves and then using that thing he loves as a reward is a time-proven method of reinforcing “brave” behavior.

Of course, taking show prospects to handling classes as soon as they are old enough is important. However, if you don’t have a class nearby, playing dog show with a friend or family member to act as “judge” is effective when coupled with other activities where your puppy can encounter strange people and dogs.

Whatever the method you choose, early and regular socialization—along with teaching of basic manners—will help your dog grow into a stable and happy companion. 

puppy socilisation starts with the breeder The 4 to 8 week period

Why, When, and How to Do It Right

Expose your puppy to different people, places, sights, and sounds.

Well-run puppy classes are a good way to socialise your pup to other dogs.

Socialising your puppy is the key to ensuring you will have a happy, confident, and well-adjusted dog. Below, learn the best time to socialise your puppy, how to do it right, and why it is important.

Socialising puppies has traditionally been considered the responsibility of the new owner. We instruct new owners to take the puppy to classes and make sure they are exposed to a variety of people and situations.

But recent research shows that encouraging a stable temperament can start even before puppies are born. Breeders can do a lot to make sure their puppies have a great start at being more adaptable to a wide variety of situations they will encounter in life.

In the fourth part of this series, we look at the 4-to-8-week period of a puppy’s life.

At 4 weeks, puppies are getting much more active and starting to get serious about having fun. They want to explore the whelping box (maybe they can even climb out now), so this is when you should expand their area to include play, toilet, and eating areas. Weaning has begun, and the puppies are now eating solid food.

Now is the time to move your puppies into the family room or kitchen. They need to hear different human voices and other common household sounds, such as vacuum cleaners, kitchen appliances, things dropping, television, etc. If you don’t have children or multiple people in your household, get friends to visit the puppies — children and men, especially. Make sure they remove outdoor shoes and wash their hands before handling the puppies.

Provide varied surfaces for the puppies to walk on. It’s easy to make a few “baby” agility obstacles. Coat a short board (2-to-3 feet) with non-skid deck paint. Later, you can put a small dowel under it to give it a little bit of wobble. A piece of artificial turf, a section of PVC pipe for them to walk over, and a short but large-diameter piece of PVC pipe for them to crawl through are all good ideas. Home improvement stores have a good selection of matting, available by the foot, that resembles show ring matting and grooming table surfaces. All puppies, even those not destined for show or dog sport homes, will gain confidence to try new things with these fun toys.

 Another idea is to hang items from a frame made of PVC. They can be sections of foam tubes (the kind designed for children’s pool toys), old kitchen spoons, strings of jangly bells, bottle brushes, crinkly strips of tarp — use your imagination! Just be sure that everything is puppy-safe. Hang them so that they brush against the puppies’ bodies as they walk through in search of small treats that you can scatter underneath to encourage this activity.

Find a shallow container with enough area for puppies to walk around in and fill it with empty plastic water bottles. These make a wonderful racket when puppies walk through them. Again, seed this with small, but delicious treats to encourage the puppies to wade in.

The puppies’ individual personalities are apparent now. Some may be bossy, others meeker. They all need to learn to deal with different dog personalities, but don’t allow a bully to pick on less assertive pups. Getting bullied too much at an early age can cause shyness problems that will be hard to overcome. Study their personalities carefully, so that you can match them to just the right homes.

Some other things to add to their experiences:

  • More physical handling, including light grooming with a soft brush.
  • Keep handling their feet and toes.
  • Provide them with appropriate toys for chewing.
  • Visitors! People of different races, men, children, older people.

It won’t be long before your puppies are ready to go to their new homes. The more things they experience and people they meet, the more prepared they will be for their new lives as happy companions.

When to Socialise Your Puppy

During your puppy’s first three months of life, he will experience a socialization period that will permanently shape his future personality and how he will react to his environment as an adult dog. Gently exposing him to a wide variety of people, places, and situations now makes a huge, permanent difference in his temperament.

When you buy a puppy from a responsible breeder, the socialization process should start before you even bring your puppy home. Gentle handling by the breeder in the first several weeks of your puppy’s life is helpful in the development of a friendly, confident dog. As early as 3 weeks of age, puppies may begin to approach a person who is passively observing them, so having a knowledgeable breeder who encourages a positive experience with people – adults and children — will help shape the puppy’s adult behavior. As their puppies develop, good breeders allow them to experience safe inside and outside environments, car rides, crates, sounds, smells, and gentle handling.

Why Socialise Your Puppy

The idea behind socialisation is that you want to help your puppy become acclimated to all types of sights, sounds, and smells in a positive manner. Proper socialisation can prevent a dog from being fearful of children, for example, or of riding in a car, and it will help him develop into a well-mannered, happy companion.

Having a dog who is well adjusted and confident can even go as far as to save his life one day. According to some leading behaviourists, improper socialisation can lead to behaviour problems later in life. Behavioural issues are the number one cause of rehoming for dogs under three years of age. Start taking your dog out to public places once your vet says it is safe, and he’ll learn to behave in a variety of situations and to enjoy interacting with different people.

How to Socialise Your Puppy

As mentioned earlier, your breeder will start the socialisation process as early as the puppy’s first few days of life, by gently handling him and allowing him to explore his surroundings. But when the puppy comes home with you, the crucial socialisation period continues, so your job is to keep the process going. Here are the basic steps to follow:

  • Introduce the puppy to new sights, sounds, and smells: To a puppy, the whole world is new, strange, and unusual, so think of everything he encounters as an opportunity to make a new, positive association. Try to come up with as many different types of people, places, noises, and textures as you can and expose your puppy to them. That means, for instance, have him walk on carpet, hardwood, tile, and linoleum floors; have him meet a person in a wheelchair or using a cane, children, a person with a beard, wearing sunglasses, using an umbrella, or wearing a hood. Think of it as a scavenger hunt.
  • Make it positive: Most importantly, when introducing all of these new experiences to your puppy, make sure he’s getting an appropriate number of treats and praise, so that he associates what he’s being exposed to and the feeling of seeing something new as a fun experience. Don’t forget to break the treats into small pieces that will be easy for your puppy to digest. Also, don’t be stressed yourself — dogs can read our emotions, so if you’re nervous when introducing your puppy to an older dog, for example, your puppy will be nervous, too, and may become fearful of other dogs in the future.
  • Involve the family: By having different people take part in the socialisation process, you’re continuously moving the puppy out of his comfort zone, letting him know that he might experience something new no matter who he’s with. Make it a fun game for the kids by having them write down a list of everything new the puppy experienced that day while with them, such as “someone in a baseball cap” or “a police siren.”
  • Take baby steps: Try to avoid doing too much too fast. For instance, if you want your puppy to get accustomed to being handled by multiple people he doesn’t know, start with a few family members and slowly integrate one stranger, then two, and so on. Starting this process by taking your puppy to a huge party or a busy public place can be overwhelming and result in a fearful response to groups of strangers in the future.
  • Take it public: Once your puppy is used to the small number of stimuli, move outside of his comfort zone to expand the amount of new experiences he’ll have. Take him to the pet store (after he’s started his vaccination series), over to a friend’s house for a puppy playdate, on different streets in the neighbourhood, and so one. At seven-to-ten days after he’s received his full series of puppy vaccinations, it’s safe to take him to the dog park (but be sure to follow dog-park safety protocol.)
  • Go to puppy classes: Once your puppy has started his vaccinations, he can also attend puppy classes. These classes not only help your puppy begin to understand basic commands, but the most important advantage is that they expose him to other dogs and people. Skilled trainers will mediate the meetings so that all dogs and people are safe and happy during the process.

What About Older Dogs?

All of this information on how important socialisation is for puppies brings up the question “what about older dogs?” If you’ve acquired a dog who is no longer a puppy, you can still help him associate new or fearful situations with a positive experience, even though you’ve missed the crucial puppy socialisation period. Slowly reintroducing the dog to new sights, smells, and sounds, with careful supervision and an emphasis on positivity in the form of praise and treats can help him overcome his fears or hesitation. (Severe cases of fearfulness should be treated with the help of a vet and/or animal behaviourist.)

Puppies should be exposed, in a positive or neutral way, to as many things as possible.  Negative experiences that occur during the socialisation window can affect a puppy for life. Some recent research suggests that puppies need to be exposed to things several times over the socialisation period.