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Remember the first time you had to go to school or public places?
I’m sure you felt the weird mixture of excitement and fear. But with your loved ones' warmth and company, the journey into the unknown became less scary and more fun. The same goes for puppies. They also need the assurance that all will be fine, even amidst uncertainties— something you and proper puppy socialisation can provide.
With everything new, puppies will understandably be hesitant and vulnerable. But through proper puppy socialisation, you can gradually introduce people, animals, environments, and the rest of the world as safe places for them to explore. And in doing so, you’re helping them grow into well-rounded, confident, and friendly adults.
Hence, puppy socialisation, in a nutshell, is about creating positive associations and building your puppy’s comfort and adaptability from an early age, setting the foundation for a happy and well-adjusted life with you and others.
Have you ever wondered why some dogs are fearful, anxious, or aggressive?
Although genetics, psychosomatic illnesses, and improper treatment may have played a part in bringing out these problematic behaviours, inadequate socialisation in the dog’s early life takes the cake.
A study at Massey University found that the level of social and environmental exposures that puppies receive is positively correlated with sociability and desirable behaviours in adulthood (e.g. well-behaved and sociable) and negatively correlated with aggression and fear.
Similarly, Appleby. Bradshaw & Cassey (2002) found that puppies who have socialised between three and six months of age were less likely to develop aggression and avoidance behaviour than puppies from non-domestic environments (66.8% were aggressive to strangers).
In other words, proper puppy socialisation is key in shaping a well-mannered and calm dog.
With their cute appearance and small stature, it's easy to believe that puppies stay young for a long time. But they grow and adapt to their environment fast. In fact, puppies are set to experience a crucial socialisation period shaping their personality in just 3 months.
This means socialisation should begin before you take home puppies from breeders and continue as you care for the fur babies.
Specifically, the primary socialisation process consists of the following periods:
This phase usually spans the first two weeks of a puppy's life. During this time, puppies lack several essential sensory and motor skills for intricate social interactions and are dependent on their mother or caretaker.
Social interactions: Feeding from mother dog and minimal interactions with littermates
This marks your puppy's third week of life, which entails the puppy’s initial attempts to gain independence since the puppy’s auditory and visual receptor organs have already matured.
Social interactions: Playing with littermates, responding to visual and auditory stimulations (e.g. tail-wagging, chewing, and biting), and potty training.
Spanning 4 to 12 weeks, the socialisation period is the most important phase in determining how your puppy behaves as an adult dog. During this time, the puppy has already acquired mature sensory, motor, and cognitive capabilities, allowing it to respond strongly to stimulants and learnings.
That said, experts refer to this time as the most crucial period for puppy socialisation and development.
Social interactions: Care-seeking activities, formation of attachments, development of pack and competitive behaviour, and establishment of aggressive or submissive tendencies.
The juvenile period covers the twelfth week of your puppy’s life up to its sexual maturity. This is when young dogs try to establish themselves as the family’s alpha. That said, behavioural issues usually arise during this time. A puppy without training, guidance, and enough socialisation may exhibit aggressiveness and destructive behaviours during this period.
Social interactions: Care-seeking activities, emotional attachments, development of pack and competitive behaviour, and establishment of aggressive or submissive tendencies.
Since puppies are still trying to master their physical, mental, and emotional capabilities during the neonatal and transition periods, socialisations facilitated by fur parents would most likely provide the most impact during puppies’ socialisation and juvenile periods.
You might think pet socialisation is as easy as occasionally exposing your puppy to anything. However, doing so improperly and inadequately can lead to phobias and behavioural issues in your fur baby. So, like any pet training, puppy socialisation must be done gradually and gently to ensure that puppies grow up to be well-adjusted, confident, and friendly adults.
Since puppies aren’t fully vaccinated at 4 weeks old, most socialisation activities you can facilitate are limited at home. But don’t worry. It can still be fun, as everything’s new for your new pup. Even the softest sounds and littlest objects can be interesting.
So, here are some things you can do to help your puppy familiarise with new sounds, sights, smells, and touch:
The key to effective socialisation is to make your puppy curious rather than fearful of his surroundings. Hence, you must help him engage with his senses without feeling overwhelmed. So, don't forget to give praises or dog treats to assure your pup that everything’s fine.
To make things even more interesting, introduce your puppy to new people. But in doing so, make sure that your puppy doesn’t feel too crowded and uncomfortable by following these steps:
Once your puppy is comfortable, invite more people to meet them using the same gentle greeting approach. This ensures your puppy remains happy and comfortable during these interactions.
Puppies learn even more when they move outside their comfort zone- the unknown! But aren’t they prohibited from going out until they complete their vaccination series (around 12-14 weeks)?
While puppies need to be vaccinated for safe outdoor excursions, it doesn't require them to stay indoors for 14 weeks. Once they've begun their vaccinations at 6-8 weeks, you can engage in outdoor training at various locations, including:
Essentially, they can go anywhere that’s safe from viruses and diseases.
Another place they can go to even before completing puppy vaccinations is puppy classes! Yep, there are schools for puppies.
Specifically, puppies can attend puppy classes after receiving at least one round of vaccinations with a minimum interval of seven days. These classes teach basic commands and provide socialisation for your pet under the guidance of experienced trainers.
Remember, socialisation doesn’t end at your dog’s puppy stage. Fur babies can still learn so much more even if they grow older. Plus, consistency helps them build confidence and feel secure.
To make your puppy’s socialisation journey more fun, you can even come up with a puppy socialisation checklist, much like a bucket list, just tailored for your fur baby! Here are some socialisation milestones you might want to include in your checklist:
Like children, puppies also need guidance and care in approaching a vast, unfamiliar world. They need you to be patient and understanding during their formative years, helping them socialise and get acquainted with everything so they can explore the world calmly, confidently, and fearlessly in adulthood.