How important is puppy socialisation?
There is a saying that ‘there are no bad dogs, only bad owners’ and a recent study by the PDSA seems to give weight to that idea.
The first ever comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK has been carried out by the organisation and the results have been published in the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.
More than 11,000 pet owners were surveyed and the findings for dogs and their behaviours were particularly revealing.
Everyone knows that aggression and destructive behaviour by dogs can have serious consequences. The report found that more than 165,000 dogs show aggression towards people on a weekly basis in the UK, with 5% showing aggression towards other pets and 8% being guilty of growling or snarling.
Animal Behaviourist David Ryan, chair of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors explained:
“Many serious problems such as overaggressive behaviour and separation distress can be traced back to the early experiences of puppies. Considerately exposing puppies to the right kind of experiences is the most useful advice I can give breeders and owners who want a well-balanced adult dog”.
The cheeky, mischievous nature of puppies is hard to resist in the early days. However socialising your puppy is crucial during first 12-14 weeks to ensure they live a happy life. The more experiences they become comfortable with, the easier it will be for them to integrate with your life, and join in on fun things like trips away and social events.
The way puppies learn to interact with humans and other animals is by a process called socialisation.
Socialising dogs means getting them used to everyday sights and sounds, some of which may initially startle or scare them. Other activities such as travelling in a car or meeting other dogs are also important aspects of the overall training regime.
The PDSA study revealed that 26% of owners got their dog from a rescue or re-homing centre so didn’t know how it had been socialised while 25% of owners who had their dog as a puppy did not train it adequately.
Encourage your puppy to meet new people
Introducing your puppy to new people who are doing various different activities is crucial to their early development. For example, taking your puppy for a walk down to the local shops and giving them time to see people jogging or cycling past will teach them to get used to the sights and sounds of a range of people carrying out different physical activities. Equally important is to familiarise your puppy with children and adults alike, so they don’t react badly to a new introduction down the line.
Help your puppy to explore new environments
Rather than just sticking to a standard walk, try and do different things such as going into a lift, standing on a train or allowing your puppy to ride in the car, with the appropriate restraints of course. Showing support and praise to your puppy when they explore these new situations by themselves is a great way to teach them to be accepting of change and not shy away from unknown territory.
Introduce new sounds
Focusing on sounds that your puppy might not hear in your everyday domestic life will ensure that your puppy doesn’t develop a fear of unknown noise. Loud sounds such as fireworks and thunder are often the cause of unease or phobia in your pup. You can download sounds on your phone and computer to play in the background to neutralise your puppy to these. Other things to be aware of are the doorbell and the banging of the letterbox.
Find doggy friends
Help your puppy to make friends with other dogs or pets, either your own or those living nearby, early on. If you already have a pet living at home it is important to introduce the smell of this pet to your puppy and vice versa. Eventually your puppy will feel comfortable with the smell and will feel more at ease upon first introduction.
It is also important to note a few things not to do when socialising your pup in the early stages of their learning….
Don’t force your puppy
If your pup is uncomfortable with any of the new situations you introduce, back off. Making them do something they really don’t want to do can have detrimental effects. Allow your puppy to take their time and offer praise when they’re brave enough to explore by themselves.
Learn to read your puppy’s signals
Look out for signs of stress or when your pup is over-tired. Keep socialisation short but sweet. Small steps may seem repetitive but in the long run, will ensure the happiness of your puppy.
Don’t stop socialising your puppy
After the crucial learning period is over, it is important to continue socialising your puppy to re-enforce their positive behaviour. This will give your puppy confidence in their ability to thrive in new situations.
When to get help
If you’re struggling with socialising your puppy, seek professional help. Some pups are more stubborn than others and can benefit from the help of an expert dog trainer. Your vet will be able to recommend a behaviourist who can make suggestions and offer training advice.
Puppy training is one of the most important stages of a dog’s life and the socialisation involved is a key element in producing a happy, healthy, well-adjusted adult canine. The adage that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is untrue so it’s never too late to train your dog. However, younger canines and puppies can usually pick things up more easily.
A good class uses reward-based training and does not use water pistols, rattle cans or other aggressive dominance/submission style methods. Punishment such as shouting, hitting or smacking is always counterproductive too.
Members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers only use reward-based methods so that is a good place to start looking for a class. Reward-based training is kind and effective as offering something that your dog really likes, such as food treats, and praising them will reinforce good behaviour and achieve excellent results.
You don’t need to enrol your dog into a class as training can easily be done in the home. Good tips include not making training sessions too long and keeping everything fun and positive using the reward based system. There should be a focus on training for one command at a time and when your dog has learnt it you can move on to another.
A new command may take lots of repetition and patience but the rewards will always be worth it.