New puppy parents all want to give the best start in life to their new companion and the best place to start is with socialisation. For those that don’t know “socialisation” is the process by which animals learn how to interact with others in their species and humans. Socialisation ensures your puppy grows up to be a cheerful and well-adjusted member of the family.
When talking about socialising a dog, this also tend to include “habituation”; when an animal learns how to react to its environment. This means the list of things new owners must expose their dog to includes: men, women, children, dogs, noises, surfaces, cars, trains etc. Moreover, depending on your dog’s age and natural temperament unfamiliar experiences could possibly illicit all sorts of ‘negative’ reactions and pave the way for deeply ingrained behaviour problems upon reaching adulthood. Aggression and anxiety related issues are commonly the result of poor socialisation and ‘are directly proportionate to the level of exposure in puppyhood.’ For example, if your dog often reacts by barking at men it might not have been a previous trauma triggering this reaction but instead they simply did not encounter enough men during their ‘socialisation window’.
The window for human socialisation closes at around 12 weeks of age. If you’re buying from a breeder they should already have begun this process for you. Many behaviourists, vets and trainers recommend for each stimulus, your puppy should be exposed to over 100 of each. Although the stakes are high and the task may seem daunting, this period in your puppy’s life is relatively short and the pay-off is more than worth the effort.
You might be surprised to know that anxiety is a more common precursor to abandonment at shelters than aggression. However, this is also partially due to many aggressive behaviours being present due to underlying anxiety problem. Other than reactivity and aggression, common anxiety related behavioral problems include: excessive whining and barking, frequent potty accidents, barrier destruction (chewing and scratching of doors, gates and furniture), overgrooming, pica and even ocd. Consult with a Behaviourist if you suspect your dog is suffering from either aggression or anxiety as later intervention can still be very effective – if approached proactively- but not more so than pre-emptive socialisation.
They key with socialising your dog is starting early, which can be a headache for owners when taking into account most puppies will not be fully vaccinated during most of their socialisation window. Owners of small breeds have it slightly easier as they can carry their puppy around with them; exposing them early to daily life with you, while at the same time keeping them safe. Before your puppy is fully immunised finding a puppy class at your local vets will give them a safe opportunity to meet other dogs and if a new puppy in the home isn’t a great excuse to invite friends over then what is?
For a complete socialisation guide check out, the Kennel Club recommended, Puppy Socialisation Plan. This plan will help ensure your pup has a long, happy and healthy life at your side.
Author: Olivia Chuah