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Socialisation Part 1: what is it and why is it important?

Socialisation part 1 – why it is essential for your puppy

This is a huge subject, so I am just going to write an introduction and talk about the role of the breeder.  That is basically what ‘socialisation’ means – an introduction.  It means teaching your puppy about the world that it will be living in, so that it can cope with the demands of the human environment.  As the Kennel club says:

“Like human children, puppies are not born with the social skills that they require to live with their family, be that a canine family or a human one. The term “socialisation” in simple terms means the learning process that a puppy must undergo in order to learn key life skills to ensure that it is happy and confident in its environment, and can communicate effectively within its social group.”

socialisationWhen should socialisation start?

We understand that puppies, like babies, are sponges, soaking up everything around them and learning from these experiences.  Historically, we probably didn’t really expect breeders to do anything much to contribute to this process, as dogs were kept in outhouses or sheds in the garden with their puppies.  They might be brought into the family home for some of the time, but were generally left to their own devices.

For puppy farmers, there is no facility to socialise pups before they are shipped off to their new homes.  Farmers don’t expect to have to do anything with the puppies and they may be kept in very poor conditions, with a mother who has little or no interaction with humans or other animals.

However, for responsible breeders, who are doing their utmost to produce pedigree dogs that the owners can be proud of, there is a challenge to provide the stimulation and experiences that the puppies will need in their new homes.

Socialisation plan

The Kennel Club have produced a useful step by step guide, the Puppy Socialisation Plan, which provides detailed examples of things that the breeder and the new owner can do to help their puppy develop.

Here is an example of part of the plan:

Week 5 – 7 – Curiosity: Tasks

socialisationPut more interactive toys into the puppy pen at times when you can supervise. These can include wobbly objects, tunnels, bits of cloth to climb over or burrow under, suspended tennis balls, larger balls that can be rolled about, empty plastic bottles with some pebbles in them that will roll noisily, small boxes that can be climbed on or in, trays filled with stones or shallow water… Anything you can think of to introduce new stimuli to the puppies.socialisation

Once the puppies are eating solid foods happily, feed them from different bowls – plastic, metal, from your hand etc.

socialisationOver the next couple of weeks, try and make sure the puppy meets as many different types of people as possible – women, men, children, people with beards, hats, high heels, hoods etc – and that they have rewarding experiences to associate with them (games, treats etc).

Household life

socialisationHaving heard all the usual household objects, it is time for him to experience them – this includes the TV, vacuum cleaners, ironing boards… anything that will form part of his life as a dog in a busy household. As always, make sure these experiences are positive. Start very slowly with these things not moving or switched on, and reward the puppy with a treat or a game for ignoring them not playing with them. Slowly you can begin to move them, switch them on at a distance etc – always going back a step if the puppy is reactive towards them.

socialisationOn occasions, feed the puppy separately from his mum and littermates – and a little bit away from you (in a crate, behind a baby gate etc). Start to teach him that good things can happen when he is on his own. Also on occasions, feed him from your hand – he also needs to learn that having humans around his dinner is always a good thing.

socialisationPositive interactions

Spend time with the puppy encouraging him to follow you, playing with him, making eye contact with him, stroking and handling him, picking him up and holding him – and generally getting him used to and enjoying human contact. Make sure all these interactions are positive for the puppy, using treats if necessary.

socialisationTry to take each puppy out individually to sit in the car, drive round the block, see and smell things that will be part of his daily life (traffic, trains etc). As he is unvaccinated (although will still have immunity passed to him from his mother) he should be carried but he should have all these experiences in these really important two weeks when his confidence is at its highest and his fear responses are at their lowest.

Putting this into practice

As you can see, the plan is practical and sensible, but it takes time and commitment.  When I have a litter of puppies, I absolutely expect that I will be inundated with visitors!  It’s one of the best things about having puppies; catching up with all my friends, seeing all my family and taking time out of my normal routine to sit and chat.  While cuddling puppies – what could be better!

However, it does take a huge amount of time and effort to achieve all this and to do it well.  Of course I also have to bear in mind the safety and security of the puppies.  I need to know everyone who comes into the house and to take sensible precautions with regards hygiene.  But for me, this process is so important that I am willing to devote my energy to it.  I believe this is what makes my puppies grow up into the wonderful, beloved animals they are.  Have a look at my testimonials page if you don’t believe me!

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to CONTACT ME to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.

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