Puppies go through a critical socialisation period from 7-16 weeks, basically this starts to build the foundation of the world around them and how they interact with that world. What is safe, comforting, scary, dangerous, fun and exciting.
Many people have the impression puppy socialisation means getting your puppy to play with as many other puppies and dogs as possible in this time.
That’s where people tend to encourage undesirable habits without even knowing it.
They take their puppy out frequently to socialise with familiar and even unfamiliar puppies and dogs.
This starts to build associations to your puppy.
A car ride begins to mean excitement.
Seeing other dogs begins to mean getting overwhelmed, whining jumping around and wanting to run run run.
Problem with these things? When you want to just go for a simple drive, your puppy or soon to be adult dog begins to whine and pace in the car, you reach your destination and all your puppy can think about is running off and playing shutting you out and not listening to you, this can be incredibly frustrating for owners and potentially dangerous habit for your puppy.
There are many more undesirable behaviours that can surface from structuring things this way but I will stop there.
What I really want you guys to know is this.
You CAN take your puppy out before his 12 week vaccination, just avoid dog parks and highly dog populated areas, have your puppy interact strictly with familiar dogs on known grounds i.e backyards. This is a time when I’ll take puppies to cafes or walk around with them in my arms. This is still exposure and still socialisation for your puppy where he feels safe and is kept up away from hazards.
Socialisation means exposure to many things noises, traffic, different surfaces, people and animals – not necessarily playing with any of these things.
Quality over quantity is important. Having a well structured socialisation plan, supporting your puppy so he leaves feeling confident about the interaction with a new item, noise, surface etc is more important in building confidence than how many things you can check off a list.
Take your time, socialisation is a daily thing for puppies and dogs, it doesn’t stop at the 16 week mark, this is just where your puppies first impression are the strongest. So you can take your time when exposing your puppy to new things like a vacuum cleaner you don’t have to turn it on the first time your puppy sees it as this could easily startle him.
Socialisation is all about getting to know your puppy, the aim is to watch him, read his body language, is he unsure? Is he uncomfortable? Do I need to assist him through this and show him that I am there for him and he is safe?
When you set socialisation up to be something about team work and confidence building, you are also setting yourself and your puppy up for stronger communication and a stronger bond during this period making your puppies other developmental experiences all the more easier to navigate.
If your puppy struggles with confidence and is quite fearful, reach out sooner rather than later, it’s not worth the frustration and distance it can cause between you and your puppy when you sit on it and hope it will fix itself.