Q: When is the best time to socialise a puppy?
A: Puppies go through what is known as the critical period. There is some difference in the span of this period between different breeds, but it is generally accepted to last until approximately four months of age. This period is a window of opportunity, because any experiences a puppy has during this phase will have a long-lasting effect on their development and behaviour. Socialisation is essential during this period.
Socialisation does not only refer to meeting other dogs; it also relates to experiences with different people, animals, environments, objects, sounds, handling procedures and so on. Simply exposing a puppy to lots of different things is not the goal, and is certainly not socialisation. Socialisation is pairing something positive with something new; it means having good experiences with other dogs, people and environments, for example. Instead of throwing your puppy into a crowded dog park where you can’t easily control his experiences, take him to a reputable puppy group.
Instead of allowing 10 people to visit your new puppy at once, bring in one visitor at a time who can interact with the puppy calmly and gently, and give him plenty of tasty treats. The goal is to teach your puppy how to swim, not to throw him in the deep end – poor socialisation can lead to fearfulness, anxiety and even aggression. It is best to contact the Animal Behaviour Consultants of South Africa about qualified professionals who can assist you through this important process.
Katherine Brown, behaviourist