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The MOST Important Thing To Teach A New Puppy - SOCIALISATION
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What is Socialisation?
Socialisation is creating purposeful, positive experiences for your puppy, to prepare them for life in the human world. For the first few months of their lives, puppies go through a developmental phase known as the critical socialisation window. During this period, puppies are learning about the word around them, and are usually curious and resilient.
What happens to your puppy during this most important stage of development will have a direct and long lasting impact on their behavioural wellness as an adult. Under-socialised puppies will almost always develop some kind of behavioural problem, like poor impulse control, resource guarding, anxiety, or even aggression.
The Most Important Part Of Training A New Puppy
When is the Critical Socialisation Window?
Depending on the individual puppy, the critical socialisation window closes somewhere between 12 and 16 weeks of age. Because there is such a limited window of opportunity for socialisation, it should always take priority over obedience training at this young age.
You should start socialising your puppy as soon as you bring them home, when they’re usually around 8 weeks old.
Socialisation is Not the Same Thing As Exposure
Socialisation does not just mean exposing your puppy to lots of things; you must ensure they are having a positive experience.
For example, taking your puppy to the school gate at bell time is not a safe way to socialise your puppy to children. You’re likely to end up with a crowd of admiring kids, all wanting to pat or hold your puppy at once. For many young dogs this is an overwhelming, frightening experience.
by Beacon Dog Trainer Maddie Ross, CPDT-KA
It would be much safer to set yourself up a small distance down the street from the school, so that your puppy can meet the children in small groups as they walk past. Be sure to bring treats and toys with you to help ensure that your puppy has a good time.
Let Your Puppy Go At Their Own Pace
Forcing your puppy into situations before they are ready will negatively impact their experiences. Let your puppy explore the world at their own pace; you can encourage them and reward them, but don’t rush them.
In particular, avoid dragging your puppy up to things by their leash, carrying them and putting them down in the new situation, or even luring them in with food.
For example, to socialise your puppy to swimming, you shouldn’t pick them up and place them in the water, or try to get them to jump in for a treat. Instead, find a place where there is a gradual incline, like a riverbank or ramp, and let them explore in their own time. Play fun games around the water and don’t stress if they don’t want to go all the way in at first. Wading pools are another good way to ease your puppy into swimming, and also a good way to help them cool off in the summer.
If In Doubt, Add Some Space
Your puppy doesn’t have to be right in the middle of something to have a positive socialisation experience. If you’re ever worried that a situation may be too much for your puppy, move further away and give them a chance to acclimatise.
A good example of this is socialising puppies to traffic. For many dogs, standing right next to a busy road with all the large, noisy cars can be very frightening. Avoid busy roads at first, starting somewhere like a park where you can walk along away from the road. As your puppy’s confidence improves, you can try coming closer and closer.
How Much Socialising?
Your puppy needs to have as many high quality socialisation experiences as you can fit in before their critical socialisation window ends.
Let’s say you took your puppy to the vet once for a socialisation visit – no needles, and lots of fun, and once for their vaccinations and to check a sore leg. That puppy might think that there is a 50% chance that going to the vet is unpleasant.
If you took that same puppy on plenty of fun vet visits, they’re much more likely to think of the vet as a good place.
What Should I Socialise To?
There are six main categories of things that you should socialise your puppy to:
Depending on their personality and breed, your puppy should be socialised to anywhere between 50 and 150 dogs before they reach 16 weeks of age. Shy puppies or over-confident puppies need higher numbers, whilst easy going dogs can get away with less.