“My dog is usually super submissive, but now, he’s growling at other dogs, barking at people who come to the door and is suddenly pulling and lunging at buses and motorbikes that pass us when we’re walking…”
More often than not, this type of dog (who’s owners we’re unaware or poorly advised on how to socialise their puppy) is a juvenile or adolescent dog, which was poorly or under socialised during their most critical period of learning.
These days; almost every pet store and vet’s clinic offers puppy preschool classes. The majority of these classes are staff run, with a lot of those staff being under trained, or trained by organisations which aren’t teaching proper protocol when it comes to puppy socialisation and training.
I see A LOT of reactive, nervous, fearful, jerks come out of classes like the ones described above.
Dogs which bully other dogs, dogs which are fearful of other dogs, or hypersensitive to and overexcited by other dogs – have little to no social skills and as a result, struggle to live a happy and fulfilling life, in the human world.
So, before we understand how to socialise your puppy with other dogs and people, we first need to know what puppy socialisation actually is.
What IS puppy socialisation?
During what is appropriately called the “critical period” of a dogs life, puppies learn what is normal in the world. How to interact and feel about their environment, the people, animals and things in it, and what their place is in the human world.
Puppies aren’t immune to fear or trauma, but in general, well bred puppies tend to accept anything they’ve received “positive” exposure to. It’s like they create a catalogue of the sights, sounds, smells and surfaces they’ve experienced and store that away to draw on those experiences during different situations through in future.
Puppies with wide and varied experiences often learn that “new” does not always = scary.
When should you socialise your puppy?
Ideally, your breeder will have made the start already. Exposing the litter of puppies to a variety of sounds, smells, surfaces, touch, people, car rides etc.
Not all breeders are created equal… Make sure you do your research and find out about what your breeder does to help give their puppies the best start. *Click here to see a list of things to ask your breeder.
I encourage you to play it safe though; and start your puppies training from the minute you collect them.
From the first day, drive with your puppy in their travel crate. Visit your local haunts and people watch. Sit at a bus stop on a busy street and watch / listen to the traffic pass. Exposing your puppy to the sights, sounds and smells of the world, from the safety of your lap or arms at first.
It’s important to keep in mind that this window of opportunity WILL close. Anything your puppy has learnt or not learnt will affect the outcome of their behaviour and attitude as an adult. This window of opportunity can vary per individual puppy, but it generally is from 8wks up until 16wks old.
Without proper socialisation; your puppy is likely to be a skittish; nervous dog without the ability to cope or be truly happy in the human world. Under (or poorly) socialised puppies often go on the offensive when they reach adolescence; and learn that they can drive away the things which scare them with aggressive displays, snapping and biting.
How to socialise your puppy
- First; you’ll want to make sure you and your puppy are speaking the same language. By using a set of “markers” strengthen the likelihood that your puppy will behave the same way in future. *find out what the heck “markers” are; and why they’re so important here
- Expose your puppy to different sounds, surfaces, smells and sights. Familiarise them with different animals and people of all kinds.
- Take the puppy to school drop off, grocery errands, cafe visits and family events. Show your puppy how to *safely* navigate stairs of different kinds (open and closed).
- Visit places with low dog traffic; kids playing on scooters, skateboards, bicycles, playground equipment and allow polite children and people to approach nicely.
- Make sure your puppies experiences are positive and varied. Let your puppy stay with trusted friends to help them develop healthy independence separated from you.
- Seek opportunities to train and socialise your puppy, everywhere you can, keeping in mind the image of what you want your puppy to be accustomed to when they’re an adult.
What to do if your puppy is timid
If your puppy is timid or shows strong fear towards new things, start small, exposing your puppy to quiet people, strange noises at low volumes, different raised surfaces in the comfort of home and work on building up your puppies focus and bond with you.
More independent and confident puppies can sometimes breeze through this socialisation process; however, don’t take it for granted and forget to be consistent with their socialisation.
Doing your research?
Struggling to socialise your puppy?
Contact us for more information about what to do and how to do it; and give your puppy the best start in life.