WHAT IS PUPPY SOCIALISATION AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Socialisation is the term used to describe the careful introduction of your puppy to other animals, people, environments and objects. Puppy socialisation as a way of learning; they learn how to cope with new places, situations and people, they learn how to communicate with other animals and how to fit in with family life. A puppy that is properly socialised will grow up to be confident and happy, whereas one that has been poorly socialised may end up anxious and fearful, which in turn can lead to aggression. Several studies have linked a lack of early socialisation in puppies with behavioural problems in older dogs.
THE ‘WINDOW’ OF SOCIALISATION
Up until 16 weeks old, puppies are going through a critical stage of their development when they are open to learning about new situations and environments. After this age anything new that they haven’t come across before will be met with apprehension. However, there is also a phase known as the ‘fear imprint period’ which is seen between 8-11 weeks old. It is still within the socialisation window but occurs when their natural fear responses start to kick in. During this period any traumatic, frightening or painful experiences will have a more lasting effect and can set your puppy back for life. It is very important that you continue to expose your puppy to new things during this stage but it is essential to make each experience as positive as possible – please see our information on ‘positive reinforcement’ in Training 101. A second fear imprint period occurs during adolescence, typically between 6-14 months old.
It is believed that this stage in development can be traced back to the habits of wild dogs and wolves. After the first few weeks with their family and a safe environment, wolf cubs develop a healthy apprehension of new situations or creatures as a way of protecting themselves from danger. Although older dogs can still be socialised it is much harder and they do not appear to cope as well.
WHAT SHOULD A PUPPY SOCIALISATION PLAN INCLUDE?
Your puppy should be introduced to as many friendly people as possible in their first few weeks of life. In fact, it’s a good idea to ask the breeder how many people your puppy has been socialised with before coming home with you. They should also have handled the puppy frequently as this gets them used to being touched and has been shown to help reduce the likelihood of biting later on. You should try to let your puppy meet as many different people as possible including: men, women and children of all ages, people of different races, people wearing hats, scarves or sunglasses, family members and strangers.