If you’re a new puppy parent, socialising your puppy is crucial. Socialising is not just about getting your pup used to people and other dogs, but also making sure that they have lots of different and positive experiences that will help them grow into happy and confident adults.
There is what’s called a ‘critical socialisation period’ for puppies, which is when they’re between about 4 and 16 weeks old. This is the period where it’s most important to give your canine friend positive and varied experiences (including different sights, sounds, surfaces, smells and skills) that will help them respond well to these experiences when they’re older.
The RSPCA recommends reward-based training for all aspects of dog training. This is where the dog is set up to succeed and is then rewarded for performing the ‘good’ behaviour (for example, with a food treat).
People and other dogs
It’s important that your puppy gets to interact with other people and dogs or puppies in a safe and positive way. Puppy school is one great way of doing this – it’s generally aimed at puppies between 11 and 18 weeks of age, which is to try and coincide with the critical socialisation period while also ensuring that the puppies are sufficiently vaccinated with all their routine vaccinations.
Once your vet tells your puppy has reached a point in their vaccination schedule where it is safe, you can also take your puppy to meet and have play dates with your friends and family and their dogs, either at your house or their house. Just make sure that the other dogs are friendly and up-to-date with their vaccinations. Dog parks are also a great option once your puppy is fully vaccinated (you can read our tips about off-leash dog parks on the Knowledgebase).
Sights, surfaces and sounds
Your puppy is going to come across a lot of different objects, sounds and sights in their lifetime, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to try and get them as used to as many of these as possible.
One way to familiarise your puppy with different people is for you to dress up! You can dress up in winter gear, sunglasses, wide brimmed hats, scrubs like a veterinarian, masks, beards, wigs, umbrellas, helmets – anything you have on hand. You can even simulate different situations like a delivery person coming to your door or someone riding a bicycle. The point of this is to get your puppy used to seeing these things and to give them a treat and praise when they behave calmly around a ‘new’ person.
When your dog gets the chance to get out and about they’ll likely come across surfaces like concrete, metal, grass, leaves, tiles, pavement and wood. You can re-create these surfaces as an ‘experience walk’ at home in your backyard to get your puppy used to these surfaces.
Dogs have a keen sense of hearing and you can also take steps to get your puppy used to the different sounds they’ll encounter during their life. There are lots of videos online you can play for your puppy (like sounds of appliances, cars, trains, motorbikes, and barking dogs) – just keep the volume low and remember to reward your puppy for calm behaviour.
Skills and experiences
You should also get your puppy comfortable with and used to being handled, through regular sessions of gentle touching of areas like their ears, feet, mouth, and tail. This will help you when checking your dog during routine care and also when they visit the vet. As always, remember the goal is to reward your puppy for calm behaviour to keep the interactions positive.
You can also get your puppy used to being in the car – even if you don’t go anywhere, you can just turn on the engine and do a few trips up and down the driveway. You can also feed your puppy a few of their meals in the car to get them to form positive associations.
There are lots of resources – and some tips on how to socialise your puppy even during the COVID-19 pandemic – on the Knowledgebase. Congratulations on your new puppy!
This piece was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers