Does your puppy have lots of friends already, or did you only just get a pup and then aren’t sure whether you even know anyone with another dog? Are you worried that your puppy will be afraid of other dogs if they don’t get to meet any soon? Or perhaps your puppy has been to a crash-bang-wallop ‘socialisation session’ somewhere and it looked a bit chaotic?
Puppies learn from their siblings, their mother, and touch, smell, hear and see more and more as they develop. From around 8-9 weeks old puppies come to their new homes, and it becomes your responsibility to teach them these social skills.
It is good practice to start socialising your puppy the moment you bring them home. But what does this involve? We have plenty of research showing that early puppy experiences form a huge part of a puppy’s learning, and builds a confident, outgoing older dog. BUT, only if it is done properly. You can start with a nice kit of essentials such as the Pet Pack, which has all sorts of grooming kit and toys, so you can start to get your pup used to these lifelong needs.
There’s a lot of risky socialisation around, where puppies are just let loose to barge into one another and generally ignore the people around them. This kind of teaching is not helpful, because your puppy learns that other dogs are either objects to freely chase without any rules, or they might end up terrified of other dogs from a session where the bolder ones are knocking them flying! Your puppy also learns to totally ignore the fun they can have with you, in favour of the dogs around them. I don’t know any owner that wants this. In addition, puppies need to learn from older dogs, not just other puppies who have zero manners and a lot of very rough skills. A gang of other puppies is a bit like a children’s playground without any lunchtime supervision.
However, puppies DO need to meet and greet a large number of new people and other dogs, learning as they go about the outside world. Behaviour problems can arise from a lack of socialisation, but with lockdown, this has meant their social skills may be affected due to restrictions on contact. The goal is to pair new experiences with something rewarding, so that the puppy’s brain forms a positive connection.
What makes better socialization, in that case? The best option is to find a range of other dogs your pup can meet and spend time with, but to make sure you are always at the front of the importance queue. Always call your puppy back to you regularly throughout any meetings, so that they know you are still there, with a nice toy, treat and a cuddle. You can use their own dinner but often you’ll need something more tasty such as Pet Munchies – do check the age range suitable for your pup.
If they ignore you now, they will later, so don’t yell or get cross (this scares all the puppies, not just yours). Instead, use really tasty smelly treats (see above), stay close to your pup, and waggle the goodies on their nose to entice them back. You can also keep them on their lead (monitor carefully) to gently steer them back to you if they find it hard to focus.
Find out more about our puppy classes below!
– Karen Wild