Dr Rebecca Nathan
Puppy socialization – What you need to know
You have a new puppy and are wondering what to do next. The physical health of your puppy through health checks, vaccinations and worming are all very important, but have you considered your puppy’s mental health?
Just like a child learns about the world around them, so to does a puppy – this is called the ‘Socalisation period’. Fundamentally important to the development of patterns of behaviour displayed in adults, this is the early development period.
The ‘Socialisation period’ in the puppy is best described as the period where the puppy forms an expectation or template of what is normal and safe in its environment. Anything the puppy does not come across during this period is more likely to cause anxiety when encountered for the first time later in life. The critical age for this expanding neuronal growth is considered to be 3-12 weeks of age.
A check list for socalisation of your puppy:
People of different ages, including children
Other puppies and adult dogs
Quiet alone time – to understand that this is ok and reduce likelihood of separation anxiety
Make a list of all the environments and social scenarios you would like your dog to attend with you as an adult, and try to make sure all of these are visited whilst in the socalisation period.
[Reference: ‘What every puppy owner should know’ – Dr Rachel Casey, British Small Animal Veterinary Congress 2013]
Practical tips for Puppy Owners:
Decide on a set of house rules that ALL family members and visitors can adhere to at all times. The same approach goes for all house rules, absolute consistency.
Make a list of all the things your puppy is likely to be faced with in his life with you, and ensure that you can expose him to these in an appropriate way when young so learns to cope
Respect what puppy is telling you and respond to their needs. If puppy learns that indicating his discomfort in a given situation means that you will intervene appropriately and remove him, then he need not escalate his response or lean to become more fearful or anxious.
Encourage behaviours you want. Puppies are learning from every experience.
Interact with your puppy on a one-to-one basis every day, playing games, teaching skills and handling them all over.
If you don’t want him to do it, don’t let him practice it. May mean managing situations until he has the self control to manage himself.
Teach loose leash walking. Teaching a puppy the skill of attending to their owner and controlling their behavior in this situation.
A good owner remembers that…
Dogs are not machines (they make mistakes)
Dogs need teaching patiently
Dogs don’t understand English, so owners need to understand more ‘dog’
Dogs are not malicious
Dogs are not motivated by dominance
Dogs have feelings
Dogs are very observant and are learning all the time
Having a well behaved dog takes time
Dogs need a balance of excitement and calm
Obedience is not the same as being well behaved
Having a dog (like any relationship) has its ups and downs, and strength can come from adversity
[ Reference: ‘Life skills for Puppies: Practical tips for New Owners’ Dr Helen E Zulch, British Small Animal Veterinary Congress 2010 ]