Q & A: Socialising puppies

Q: When is the best time to start socialising puppies and what are the first steps?

A: Socialisation needs to start as soon as you bring your puppy home. Keep in mind that your puppy is constantly having new experiences, and every experience should be positive! Socialisation is not just about exposing your puppy to loads of people and dogs. It’s about exposing your puppy to new things slowly and carefully, ensuring that he’s comfortable and making the experience as rewarding as possible. This includes other dogs, people, environments, sounds, objects and handling. And this is where a good puppy class with qualified, positive reinforcement trainers becomes extremely important. In a good class, trainers help owners and their pups explore new experiences in a controlled and positive way, which can then be continued at home.

The main principle of socialisation is that you shouldn’t throw your puppy in the deep end. Teach them how to swim at their own pace. For example, when introducing your puppy to something new, like a vacuum cleaner, don’t switch it on and move it around the puppy. Start with it lying on the ground, switched off, and gently encourage your puppy to investigate it – while letting treats rain from the sky!

Intensity and difficulty should be increased very slowly and at the puppy’s pace. So, if the pup can happily take treats and has loose, floppy body language while the vacuum cleaner is on, but shies away when it’s on AND moving, then you need to make it easier for him and return to a point where he is comfortable. Socialisation is absolutely crucial for raising a confident and stable dog, but it must be achieved gently and cautiously. Too much at once can easily overwhelm a puppy and cause fear, which could lead to problems down the road.

By Katherine Brown, behaviourist

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