Early Socialisation & Training: Set Your Puppy up for Life!

Your puppy's experiences during the first 3 to 4 months of their life will strongly influence their future behaviour and well-being. You will never get this opportunity back, so make the most of it.

figure: puppy looking at different types of people - kids, man with hat, person with umbrella, skate boarder, cyclist

People

figure: puppy looks at dogs, cat, horse

Animals

figure: puppy looks at vaccuum cleaner, car, broom, plane, crane

Other stuff

In order to become a happy, confident and social dog your puppy needs to meet lots of different people doing lots of different things, other dogs and other animals, and all those things that make up our every day lives.

Early training, in short sessions and with lots of positive reinforcement, is very beneficial. It will set your dog up for success in a human world from the start.

human calls puppy who is looking into distance
figure: puppy runs to human
figure: human rewards puppy by offering frisbee game

Encourage and reward the behaviour you want from the start

What is Puppy Socialisation?

Puppy Socialisation is a process that prepares a puppy for life in human society by systematically and prudently exposing them to whatever life may throw at them.

Puppies go through a 'sensitive period', starting at 3 weeks of age and slowly fading out somewhere between 12 and 16 weeks of age. During this period the young dogs are especially open and curious towards new experiences and everything they do encounter has the potential to leave a particularly strong impression and lasting memory in their brains.

This gives us the perfect opportunity to do everything we can to make our dogs feel comfortable alongside us and in our world. Many things that we barely notice like the noise of traffic, a plastic bag being blown down the street or the feel of gravel under our feet can become sources of fear for an under-socialised dog.

Making the most of this period is immensely important for the dog's future life and well-being.

If the dog's environment during this time is 'impoverished', meaning they do not have exposure to many different people, animals, objects, sounds, smells and so on, the dog is likely to end up fearful and possibly aggressive.

Leading experts agree that you should not wait for your puppy to be fully vaccinated before taking them to puppy class and out into the world. Dogs are far more likely to be relinquished because of behaviour problems later in life than catch a disease during puppyhood. Early socialisation is not a matter of opinion but a vital part of a young dog's life. And it may well be a matter of life and death for your dog.


Read the following statements by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) and the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) on puppy socialisation:


AVSAB Position Statement on Puppy Socialization

AVA Position Statement on Puppy Socialization

How Do I Socialise My Puppy?

Make sure your dog experiences the world and everything in it in a positive light by providing tasty treats, play and good times with every new person, animal, thing or event.

Socialising your puppy does not mean throwing them into the world and hoping they get used to everything they encounter. The goal is to avoid scary or traumatic experiences while creating lots of positive associations with whatever the dog may encounter throughout their lives.


Here are some excellent resources to learn more about socialising your puppy:


Why You Need to Socialize Your Puppy by Companion Animal Psychology

Puppy Socialization - Stop Fear Before it Starts by Dr Sophia Yin

Five Things You Can do to Bite-Proof Your Puppy by Paws for Praise

How Can I Socialize My Puppy With Kids? by Dogs and Babies

Take your dog to puppy class where they can be socialised in a safe environment. Introduce your puppy to the world but be careful with exposure to dog parks and avoid scary experiences.

Puppy Class

Outside World

Teach your dog to be at ease with being handled, confined and having equipment put on them.

Your dog will be much more comfortable with vet visits, grooming and similar body handling if they are taught to enjoy various procedures, equipment and confinement early in life. In fact it can prevent fears and anxiety from developing and should be considered a standard part of socialisation.


Video: Teach your Dog to Enjoy Nail Trimming by Kelly Cottrell

Video: Teach your Dog to Enjoy Teeth Brushing by Kelly Cottrell

Muzzle Training for the Vet: a "Must" for every Dog Owner, by Maureen Backman, The Muzzle Up Project

Video: Teaching Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle by Chirag Patel

Video: Condition Your Dog to Like Wearing a Head Halter, by Jean Donaldson

Vet visits

Grooming

Equipment

Confinement

Do not overwhelm your puppy. If they appear in any way worried or reluctant, give them space.
It is always better to go at the dog's pace and give them a positive experience than coerce them and risk that they become fearful.

For example, meeting several strangers at once can be too much for your puppy. Do not allow people to approach or handle your dog if the dog seems scared. Never force your dog or you may create fearfulness instead of preventing it.

figure: human trying to pull puppy on lead towards visitors; puppy resists

figure: visitors sitting, casually chatting and ignoring puppy; puppy slowly approaches sniffing

figure: puppy near visitor; human says hello and offers hand for sniffing

How Do I Train My Puppy?

Puppies have a much shorter attention span than adult dogs. Keep training sessions brief, alternate them with play sessions and have tasty treats. That way your dog will always love training.

Your puppy learns all the time, with or without your direction. By rewarding desired behaviours from the beginning, even if they are just baby steps towards the desired behaviour, you can shape the dog's behaviour in the direction you want. Early training also increases the bond between you and your dog, builds your puppy's confidence and makes future training easier.

Additionally to teaching your puppy sit and drop (down) focus on impulse control behaviour, i.e. stay, wait, leave it, walking on leash and coming when called. If you build these skills early, you and your dog will have a lot less trouble in the future.


Read more about training in the 'Dog Training' section.


And here are some resources on house training:

House Training 101, webinar by Helen Verte

House Training Your Puppy by ASPCA

Never physically or verbally attack your puppy, no matter what they do. This is likely to make your puppy afraid of you instead of building trust.

If your puppy engages in behaviour you don't like, either ignore the behaviour, so it does not get reinforced, or walk away and ignore the dog for a minute. You will have to repeat this consistently until you notice a change in your dog's behaviour. A good puppy class or dog trainer will demonstrate exactly how to do this.

Always remember that your dog is not human and will never understand why you disapprove of their behaviour. Punishment in form of time-outs or withholding of play or treats is bad enough for a puppy (in fact for some it can be too stressful). There is never any justification for scaring, intimidating or hurting your dog.

Spend lots of time with your puppy and build a close relationship based on trust. Exercise them according to their age, play games and provide toys. It is much better, and easier, to train a dog who is mentally, emotionally and physically healthy.

Click on the icons below to learn more.

icon:companionship - dog and human cuddling

Company

Companionship is absolutely essential for your puppy. Include your dog in family activities and take them with you whenever you can. Do not confine your dog to the outside yard or leave them alone for too long.

icon:exercise - dog and human playing ball

Exercise

Play with your puppy so they can engage in natural dog behaviours such as chasing (ball), chewing (chew toys) and tugging (tug toys). For more strenuous exercises, such as jogging or cycling with your dog, wait until the dog is fully grown to avoid injury.

How should I exercise my puppy?, RSPCA Australia

icon:training - human rewarding dog for sit

Training

Make training fun. Incorporate it into play sessions and give lots of praise and tasty treats. Identify what type of foods and games your puppy really loves and use them to reward the behaviours you like.


Read more about training in the 'Dog Training' section.

×