Why early puppy socialisation is so important

Play Video

Bringing a new puppy home is an exciting time for everyone. It’s also a crucial time for puppy socialisation activities to help ensure it can overcome the instinctive fear that dogs have of humans and many other things in our world.

The reason why we need focus on puppy socialisation as early and as positively as possible, is that because everything that a dog learns in the first 3-16 weeks of its life is known as the ‘Socialisation Period’ – it’s ‘foundation learning’.

Why early puppy socialisation is so important

What many people don’t know is that anything that the dog learns during this period is permanent and will be retained in the memory of the dog for life – good or bad experiences!

Usually as a rule, the puppy will remain with their mum and litter mates until it is at least 8 weeks of age so they can reach their full genetic potential. In simple terms, so they can learn to be a dog!!

When we do get them home however it is very important that we then begin socialising them straight away.

What does puppy socialisation involve?

This means introducing them to all different types of people, different sizes – tall, short, big and small, male and female, old and young, different places and environments, so that they get used to, and have a good association with, being in a wide variety of situations and with all types of people.

This is also important to do with other dogs, again introducing them slowly and safely so they again have a positive experience when meeting new dogs.

We should also do this with every day items that we might find older dogs can be scared of if they aren’t exposed safely to them at a young age ie: lawnmowers, bikes, skateboards, vacuums, cars, loud noises, thunderstorms and firework sounds.

Creating a positive association is vital

It is very important that these introductions are done in a relaxed and safe environment, with mild intensity that gradually increases in movement or noise to help prevent negative reactions to these objects or sounds occurring (ie: so they do not have a bad experience and become scared of them).  See my vacuum example here.

If they are slowly and positively introduced to these experiences as a puppy then you can avoid having a dog on your hands that is constantly barking or chasing after skateboards, wheels, the vacuum etc. which we too often see.

The best way to introduce your puppy to objects for example is to have them turned off or not moving at first so they can sniff and explore them.  Use treats to reward calm behaviour.

When they are comfortable interacting with the item, you would then turn it on or start it moving at a far distance and slowly, every time rewarding them for now reaction.   You then move to the next step slowly over a period of time, only moving to the next stage when they are comfortable and not reacting.

That is why every time we move to the next step, we increase the distance again so they don’t feel like they need to react.  We do not want to push it too fast or too close to cause them to bark, cower, back away etc.

Puppy socialisation is more than just play

Other things you should expose your puppy to during the puppy socialisation period are different floor types, puddles, gravel etc.

I’ve seen many dogs that are afraid of walking on slippery floors for example which this can be due to a lack of exposure (or even genetic – but that’s for another time) which can be a tough phobia for you both to deal with should you move to a new home that has tiles or floorboards!

Joining a reputable puppy school as soon as possible is a great way to get your dog socialising with other dogs and people. Given the experience your puppy has here is likely to have an impact on its future behaviour, it is important to do your research.  Positive reinforcement training is a must!

The vaccination requirements of puppies attending classes will vary according to the philosophy of the organisation or person conducting the class. A lot of dog trainers will accept puppies from 8 weeks of age if they have had their first vaccination, as they understand the vital role early puppy socialisation plays.

I cannot stress how important proper and early puppy socialisation is for your dog, as is finding the right trainer or puppy socialisation class to help keep behaviour problems at bay or address them early.

If you are thinking of getting a new puppy make sure you read our tips on preparing for a new puppy and how to puppy proof your home. You can never be armed with too much information!

You can also find additional puppy tips and information about the Vitapet Puppy Treat Range on their website.

About the Author: Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, pet food nutrition specialist, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of World of Dogs and Eat, Play, Love Your Dog

Looking for more dog tips and fun facts?

Get your paws on Lara Shannon’s best selling books ‘Eat, Play, Love (your dog) and World of Dogs.

Available in Australia, USA, UK and Canada.