We’ve all heard that socialising our new puppy is important…
but what does ‘socialisation’ really mean?
When is the best time to start and how do to go about it? We will be discussing the what’s and the how’s, but before we do that let us have a look at the when you should start. During the dog’s different developmental stages, the pup requires different types of exposure to grow into a fully confident, healthy adult dog. However for the purposes of this piece we will focus on the Socialisation Period that ranges from the age of 3 to 16 weeks. This window of opportunity is small, especially if you take into consideration that a pup should ideally not be removed from his mum before the age of 12 weeks. During these critical 12 weeks the responsibility falls on the breeder to undertake sufficient and safe socialisation practices – remember this when you research possible breeders.
One of the biggest misconceptions about socialisation is that playing with the other, often older, family dog(s) constitutes socialisation. This obviously has its place in the overall socialisation of the pup but it is important to include as many different dogs, of different ages, breeds and sizes as possible. Taking part in puppy play sessions such as during well run puppy socialisation classes ensures that the pup has a wider range of exposure to different breeds and ultimately improves how it communicates and interacts with other dogs. Socialisation should however not be confined to just interaction with other puppies. Pups and adult dogs play differently, therefore it is important for the young pup to interact with adult dogs, but only if the adult dog itself is a well socialised and non-reactive dog. Not only do pups and adult dogs play differently, different breeds tend to play differently. So again we need to cast the socialisation net wider to include not just pups and adult dogs but pups and adult dogs of a variety of breeds, again bearing in mind that any dog you are planning to expose your pup to has to be well socialised.
Exposing a young pup to different ages, breeds and size of dog, although of utmost importance, does not in itself ensure a well-balanced, happy and confident adult dog. David Appleby gives this description of socialisation in his article Puppy Socialisation and Habituation (Part 1) Why is it Necessary?: “Socialisation can be described as the process whereby an animal learns how to recognise and interact with the species with which it cohabits. In the wild this is likely to be limited to the animal’s own species, but for the domestic dog it includes other species such as man and cats. By learning how to interact with these the socialised dog develops communication skills which enable it to recognise, amongst other things, whether or not it is being threatened and how to recognise and respond to the intentions of others. Habituation can be described as the process whereby an animal becomes accustomed to non-threatening environmental stimuli and learns to ignore them.”
It is important to expose your pup to any species it is going to live with, be it cats, horses, cattle, sheep, etc. If you are a cat lover you do not want a dog that did not learn from an early age how to coexist with this “foreign” species. What about the human species, how do you need to go about this very important part of the socialisation process? The aim here is to expose your dog to as many people, male, female, big, small, young, old, wearing hats or hoodies, walking with a walking stick or using a wheelchair, etc. As with the exposure to other dogs, and species, any exposure to other humans has to be done with the welfare of the pup being the first consideration as fear inducing exposure will have a direct and negative impact on the dog’s future behaviour.
So far we discussed exposure to different species, but it is important to include exposure to different environmental stimuli, such as cars, bikes, buggies, wheelchairs and any other visual and auditory stimuli that the pup might possibly be exposed to during his/her life. Don’t forget about different surfaces, yes it is important that the pup get familiar with walking on different surfaces such as grass, pavements, and wooden, carpeted and tiled floors.
When engaging in multi-species socialisation it is import that you take the health and emotional wellbeing of all the species into consideration. The Pet Professional Guild has this very informative socialisation checklist (click here to open)
- If you are unsure about how to go about socialisation please contact a qualified and registered pet dog trainer. See links below:
- Why not have a look at this very informative posting by the late, Dr Sophia Yin: