When you take on a puppy you take on responsibility for its future. The first year in your puppy’s life is extremely important. If well socialised your puppy will grow up to be friendly and happy with people and other animals and make a well-balanced pet. Dogs regularly taken out as puppies and experiencing different surroundings can take life in their stride and enjoy going anywhere with their owners.
The sooner the better
During its early weeks of life the puppy will approach anything and anybody willingly and without fear. However, by the time it is 3 months old any new encounter will be approached cautiously and with some trepidation. It is therefore vital that your puppy meets a variety of people, situations and other animals during the first 3 months. This is an important point to bear in mind when choosing your puppy particularly if buying other than from a family situation. Typically puppies go to their new homes at about 8 weeks of age. This leaves only a very short time for new experiences and therefore the more experiences that a puppy has already become accustom to the better. You should bear this in mind when looking at a litter of puppies, have they been well socialised meeting a variety of different people, are they used to the hustle and bustle of a domestic environment, televisions, slamming doors and other pets?
Once you have taken your puppy home you only have a short time and should make a real effort to socialise well during your first month together. Socialising after 3 months of age is also necessary to build on the earlier foundations or to make up for lost time. If you continue to make an effort with your puppy until at least a year of age you will end up with a friendly adult dog that you can confidently take to different situations.
What You Need To Do
To begin with take your puppy out and about as much as possible as soon as he has settled in but be careful not to overwhelm him and to keep him safe from infectious diseases. Get him used to being handled by different sizes and types of people and children, for example take your puppy to the homes of your friends or invite them around to your house. It is really common sense but you do need to make the effort while your puppy is still young.
You must ensure that all encounters are enjoyable. Avoid exposing your puppy to situations that he may find intimidating. Encourage visitors to feed him tit bits or encourage them to play with one of his favourite toys. Ensure that your puppy does not become anxious or overwhelmed and if he looks as if he may be remove him from the situation and give him some time on his own. Remember that young puppies are inexperienced and can easily get themselves into trouble. If you arrange for all encounters to be successful and rewarding your puppy will gain in confidence.
Your puppy’s meeting with adults and children should be the most important item on your socialisation programme. The more humans that your puppy meets and plays with the more confident he will be. Try to expose him to people of all ages and temperaments, and particularly children.
Other Dogs and Puppies
A good puppy socialisation class helps with socialising and training but should be seen as an additional benefit to the work that you do at home. It is important to find a good class as a bad one could do more harm than good. Your local vet or canine society should be able to guide you in the right direction and it would be sensible to visit before taking your puppy. Check that there is proper supervision and that the puppies and owners there look as though they are enjoying their experience.
Puppies usually instinctively want to play with each other but do be careful when introducing them to adult dogs and ensure those dogs that they do meet are safe around puppies. A bad experience is worse than none at all and will remain with your puppy for a long time. Ensure that your puppy is kept from over exuberant play by a larger dog and if necessary crouch down to provide your puppy with a safe haven. Ensure that he does not become frightened. Since your puppy will not have full protection from illness until after all of his vaccinations have taken effect, special care should be taken to ensure that dogs and puppies encountered are fully vaccinated and healthy.
Until your puppy is fully vaccinated he should not be allowed to mix with dogs of unknown vaccination status nor should he be taken to parks or walked in areas where other dogs have been. He should be taken out and about often in none doggy areas and if necessary carried to avoid contact with other dogs or soiled areas. An early introduction to car travel, which may initially cause sickness, is worthwhile so that your puppy learns to enjoy going out and about with you.
As well as socialising and training it is essential that you teach your puppy how to behave. If well socialised he should be friendly and eager to meet people and other animals. However, some control of the exuberance that comes with this will be needed and it will take time to find the balance of friendliness and politeness. Prevent bad behaviour by ignoring or distracting unwanted actions and by rewarding and praising good behaviour. If you ignore unwanted actions they will occur less often and rewarding good behaviour will encourage more of the same.
The work put into early socialising of puppies will pay handsome rewards in later life as these experiences form the foundation for future behaviour.