Puppy Socialisation: How to do it right.
The critical learning period for pups is approximately between 8 – 12 weeks of age. During this period it is pivotal to expose, familiarise, and habituate our pups to as many things possible, as what they learn within this key stage can stay with them for life.
To ensure our dogs become well rounded adults it’s important to not just expose them to new and novel stimuli but to ensure that this new stimuli has a positive association.
When encountering something our dogs may find scary, we can pair this with a treat, a game of tug, a tasty kong, and positive reassurance. So they build up the association of ‘scary thing = something good’ making the scary thing less scary.
Exposure alone is not socialisation
Socialisation however doesn’t mean puppy playing and interacting with other dogs. It is a generalization of the world to make novel stimuli a positive experience, but in doing this we can also incorporate training into our socialization, such as training simple games such as eye contact, hand touches, and recall when near other dogs, animals, people, and strange noises.
As an example, imagine a puppy encountering traffic for the 1st time; this is how we would appropriately socialise traffic and cars:
1. Keep a comfortable distance from the road/traffic, enough that puppy can see and hear but not too close or too loud that it’s scary and overwhelming
2. Everytime a car goes past give puppy a piece of chicken.
3. If a car beeps their horns give lots of treats and comfort your dog, keeping your voice cheerful and happy.
4. Alternatively we can play with toys or do some training in the presence of new things such as traffic, to build up a postive feeling around novel stimuli.
As a way to build up to scary noises, we can play street sounds on our computer through speakers, at a low tolerable volume when feeding our puppy. And gradually over the space of a week or so increase the volume every day, so puppy associates these potentially scary noises with good things, such as dinner time.
Games & activities to play with your pup to boost their confidence & experiences:
Confidence Course: Using novel stimuli such as different surfaces, boxes, and items our dogs have may never encountered before – and lots of tasty treats of course – we can create a treasure hunt for our dogs, helping create a little confidence boost with strange items.
Enrichment games: Making a toy or game out of novel items such as cardboard boxes, milk cartons, or plastic bottles can help not only boost their problem solving ability, but overall confidence with novel items.
Teach a new behaviour: Teaching puppy a new behaviour from scratch can increase their confidence, and can also be used as a positive activity when around other unusual stimuli. Recall games: Teaching a recall at an early age is vital and can help keep puppy safe if they ever encounter something they don’t like by getting them back to us as quickly as possible.
Ensure your pup has a positive experience with all or most of the following:
- Baby prams
- Kids in playgrounds/running around
- Shopping Trolleys
- Kids toys (remote control cars etc)
- Pebbles (rocky beach)
- Metal Shores
- Steal grates
- Wooden decking
- Tiled Floors
- Slippery floor
- Wet ground
- Wet grass
- Vets office (reception)
- Handling at the vets
- The groomers
- Dog brush
- Paws being touched
- Pet Shop
- The Car
- The Beach
- The Park
- The school gate
- Dog friendly cafe
- Sound of fireworks (can be played on youtube)
The list above is a small example of things you can and should expose your dog to. Remember, exposeure alone isn’t enough. And if it isn’t a positive experience then our dog has learned the wrong thing.