Is your puppy worried when guests arrive at your home? Are they scared when they see other dogs? Is your puppy concerned by traffic noises?
The big wide world is a very foreign place for a new pup, which is why it’s important to take the time to socialise your puppy and expose them to a variety of situations to equip them to cope with all the situations they’re likely to encounter.
- What is socialisation?
When we bring our new puppy home, we want to set them up for success in life by exposing them to different situations and experiences to help our puppy become a confident dog.
Some dog owners forgo puppy school, however, we can still help these puppies feel comfortable with new places, noises, people and other dogs.
- Puppy socialisation period
Between the ages of 3 and 17 weeks is the critical socialisation period for puppies. This is the time they need to be exposed to environments, people, noises, objects, vehicles and other animals. Whatever your puppy experiences over this time can shape and influence their behaviour for the future.
Take note of how your puppy reacts to the doorbell. Is your puppy excited? Worried? Uninterested?
If your puppy is worried by the sounds of the doorbell, have someone in your family press the doorbell while you reward your puppy with a tasty treat. Gradually they will learn to associate the doorbell with a positive consequence.
When introducing your new puppy to guests, avoid holding your puppy in your arms. Instead, let your puppy choose whether they want to say hello or move away from the person. If your puppy is a little worried, the guest can sit down quietly or crouch down on the floor and toss treats to your puppy (never feed directly from your hand). If your guests sit side-on to your puppy, they will appear smaller and less threatening.
When meeting children make sure the puppy isn’t crowded, ideally introduce one child at a time or it can become overwhelming for your puppy.
Youtube is a wonderful resource for recordings of sounds to help your puppy become familiar with the noisy world outside your home. You’ll find traffic noises, sirens, dogs barking and fireworks amongst all sorts of other recordings. When using these recordings to help your puppy feel comfortable, start with a low volume and gradually increase the volume over time.
While the sounds are on, play with your puppy and reward with treats. If your puppy is worried by the sounds, stop the noise and try again at a different time, starting with a low volume. Always remember to keep the experiences fun and positive.
Puppies need to get used to walking on different surfaces like carpet, concrete and tiles, and surfaces that feel slippery or rough. Encourage your puppy to walk on all surfaces by using a toy to encourage play or by tossing a treat. Don’t pull your puppy to force them to walk on the surface or they may panic, creating a long-term fear response.
A good puppy school will be looking to see how your pup reacts to other puppies, and how they interact. Is your puppy happy to sniff another dog? Be inquisitive? Are they comfortable in the presence of other dogs? Does your puppy engage in play?
If your puppy is fearful of other dogs and exhibits this fear by barking, cowering or trying to move away from other dogs, it is recommended to seek the guidance of a dog trainer to facilitate a controlled meet and greet to help your puppy feel more comfortable in the presence of other dogs.
Don’t force your puppy to be around other dogs at the dog park as this can contribute to their feelings of fear, and make them feel as though they have no choice about being around something, they find so fearful.
Consider if you had a fear of spiders, would you want to be forced to spend time in a room full of spiders? Would this help you overcome your fear? Probably not. As such, forcing your dog to spend time at the dog park without the guidance of a trainer and a controlled environment is unlikely to help your puppy overcome their fear, but rather add to their fear response.
Even if your puppy isn’t fully vaccinated you can still spend time outside to let your puppy experience the outside world. Before your pup is fully vaccinated carry your puppy as they can pick up diseases from the ground.
Take your puppy outside and sit on a bench and watch people passing by, go to the beach and let your dog hear the ocean and seagulls or take them for a ride in the car. It’s a great idea to visit your local vet clinic so your pup can say hello to the team and learns to associate the vet with fun, which will pay dividends for future visits.
Remember socialisation isn’t just about dogs playing with other dogs, it’s about exposing your puppy to outside experiences to set your puppy up for life and empower them to cope with different situations.
Kelly McFarlane is a Behavioural Consultant with over 20 years of hands-on experience communicating with, training and socialising family dogs. Kelly can work with you and your family to create a personalised plan for you and your dog to successfully socialise your family pet.
Kelly offers both in-home and puppy school classes so she can help families throughout New Zealand.