What is socialisation?
There is a critical socialisation period is thought to be 3- 12 weeks. During this window of a time it’s imperative that a puppy has been carefully exposed to a range of different experiences in a controlled and managed way. Socialisation refers to actively socialising with things in the environment – this may be through play – so it would be with other puppies or humans. Habituation refers to getting used to things in the environment so they’re not overly concerned by them and react to them – these can be noisy items such as hair dryers, hoovers, ambulances and car doors slamming.
What should socialisation be about?
Socialisation is about short, steady and regular exposure. It’s really important to orchestrate environments for our puppy to experience new sights, sounds and handling experiences in a controlled and managed way so we can step in if our puppy is showing any signs of being overwhelmed. Our puppies should be experiencing things from a safe distance and walk towards them and checking them out in their own time. A good way of doing this is attaching a long line lead to your dog’s harness (not a flexi lead as this can be dangerous), and leaving it some of the lead out so that no tension is placed down the lead. When meeting new dogs for the first time it’s a good idea to do the 3 second rule – allow the dog’s to interact for 3 seconds then move away then if both dog’s want to interact again then you go back and repeat. Do this for a few times so you can determine if both dog’s are comfortable. What shouldn’t socialisation be about? It’s really important to be mindful of the size of dog’s, temperament of other dog’s and other dog’s play style when you’re considering suitable play mate’s for your dog. Puppy’s have sensitive joints that are developing so not playing with huge dog’s in the first instance is advisable. I’ve heard of experiences where one puppy is ambushed by another puppy and constantly pinned down and chased – this is not what socialisation is about! Any early negative experiences such as this can have a negative impact on a puppy’s emotional development and may imprint fear which can be hard to overcome. Handling how to’s Puppies will be handled by a range of people including family members, vet’s and possibly groomers. It’s really important that they get used to being handled so they build up more positive associations with it, as dog’s aren’t automatically born to enjoy handling. A good way to do this is to start handling and give your dog a full body rub (as if you needed any excuse to stroke your puppy!), after a walk so they are more relaxed. Have some treats handy and then allow your puppy to approach you and sit on your lap. Apply small pressure to their paw and give them a treat and hold on to their paw while they’re eating it then let go. You should focus on the paws so you can check for any thorns after dog walks. Get the ears being used to being touched that will make it easier for ear drops. Touch the tail and think about your dog’s mouth and opening up their lip to make tooth brushing easier. Think about your dog’s eyes and lifting lid’s ever so carefully to get them used to any possible future eyedrop experiences.
Seeing is believing
It’s important that your dog see’s lots of different people and sights. This can be harder if you’re in a quieter location or because of social distancing. This is where you can play dress up! Get out your eighties neon, sunglasses, hat’s, grow a moustache, wear glasses and wear lots of layers to mimic people of different shapes and sizes. Allow your puppy to observe you and explore you in their own time. When your puppy is out of the room then you can rearrange all the furniture to help them see different sights too and not get worried if you change your layout around. Children playing in the park should be watched from a safe distance too – they move around a lot and run, and make lots of noise so it’s important to get your dog used to them.
Dogs have incredible hearing so it’s important to get them used to sounds they will hear as they will be amplified to them. Consider a wheel chair or pushchair going past a dog they are lower down to the ground so not only will they hear it much more but there will be vibrations associated with the sound too. The Dog’s Trust have a great sound resource CD that can be downloaded along with instructions of how to use it: https://www.dogstrust.org.uk/help-advice/dog-behaviour-health/sound-therapy-for-pets Have some treats handy and play the sounds at a low noise to begin with then gradually increase the volume. If your dog looks nervous then play at a lower volume. This will help them to cope with firework sounds later on.
We as humans wear shoes so we often don’t feel all the sensations beneath our feet – dog’s do. Consider all the different surfaces there are including concrete, metal, grass, sand, laminate, tiles. In the warmer weather it’s imperative that dogs aren’t walked when it’s too hot as pavement’s can burn dog’s paws. Sit on different surfaces (protecting yourself with a blanket) so they’re not uncomfortable for you and allow your puppy to investigate them and stand on them on their own time. When they do give them a treat. You don’t need to force, cajole or lure them on to these things – they can explore them in their own time. If you’re outside and working on your dog’s recall then place them on a long lead so you can take hold of the lead if they decide to go for a wander.
The Rule’s of 7
If you’re getting a puppy from a breeder then they should be working on a dog’s socialisation a long time before you bring them home. You can adapt this to add new experiences to incorporate your puppies current age. Active and managed socialisation should happen up to the age of 6 months. “The Rules of Seven” (reposted with permission) by Pat Sharp
The Rule of 7’s helps to create a dog that does not stress as easily and that is more accepting and adaptable to new stimulations and situations.
The Rule of 7’s
By the time a puppy is seven weeks old, he/she should have: ~ Been on 7 different types of surfaces – carpet, concrete, wood, vinyl, grass, dirt, gravel, wood chips, etc.
~ Played with 7 different types of objects – big balls, small balls, soft fabric toys, fuzzy toys, squeaky toys, paper or cardboard items, metal item, sticks or hose pieces, etc.
~ Been in 7 different locations – front yard, back yard, basement, kitchen, car, garage, laundry room, bathroom, crate, etc.
~ Met and played with 7 new people – children, older adults, someone with a cane or walking stick, someone in a wheelchair or walker, etc.
~ Been exposed to 7 challenges – climb on a box, climb off a box, go through a tunnel, climb steps, go down steps, climb over obstacles, play hide and seek, go in and out of a doorway, run around a fence, etc.
~ Eaten from 7 different containers – metal, plastic, cardboard, glass, china, pie plate, frying pan, etc.
~ Eaten in 7 different locations – crate, yard, kitchen, basement, laundry room, living room, bathroom, etc.
Prevention is better than cure
It’s important that dog’s get used to hands going near to items that they value – this helps prevent resource guarding/possession aggression. Puppies are like mini hoovers and explore the world with their mouths – it’s important to get them used to hands going near items they pick up as they could be dangerous. One way to do this is to hold an item, such as a chew while they’re chewing on it. This way they will get used to human hands holding items they value. While your puppy is eating just walk past and pop some treats or kibble in their bowl – this way they will start to associate hands with positive things that bring not always take away. Teaching your puppy drop and leave it will help prevent them picking up items they shouldn’t and improves their wellbeing as it prevents expensive vet trips.
Puppies and pussycats
If you have a cat then placing some management inside your home will help to relieve stress. Before your puppy arrives get an item that has their scent on such as a blanket or toy and leave this out for your cat to smell. Things you can do is have baby gates to restrict access to certain spots in your home where your cat’s key resources are – their feeding bowls, water, litter tray and resting spots. Cats naturally feel safer up high so having elevated places where they can relax is important – look at cat friendly shelving options and also cat tree’s. An inexpensive way to have somewhere for your cat to go up high is by placing a side table at the end of your sofa – place your sofa up against the wall and the gap in between (depending on your cat and dog’s size) will be a safe and simple exit point for them to go through to escape any unwanted attention from your puppy. Also talk to your vet about options such as Zyklene a natural remedy and Feliway – which releases synthetic pheromones that help your cat to feel more comfortable and secure in their environment. Play, what’s ok? Our puppies can’t speak to us verbally but they can do with their body language. It’s really important to notice any body language signs that suggest they’re uncomfortable with a situation and are asking for help. Things such as hiding behind you is a sign that your puppy is asking for a hand out of the situation, it’s important to respect this and move on and out of the way and be your puppies’ safe space. Other signs that suggest a dog’s uncomfortable are moving away, growling, showing the white’s of their eye (also known as whale eye) and tucking their tail underneath their backside – dog’s gain vital information from sniffing each other’s rears so a dog exhibiting this body language sign is trying to conceal information about themselves.