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Puppy socialisation - The dos and don'ts

Almost everyone has heard about "puppy socialisation" and how important it is, but not everybody talks about how incredibly difficult it can be to get it right. From the time you bring your puppy home to around 14 weeks of age you are working through their sensitive period. Making mistakes during this time can influence your dog's outlook on life, and at worst cause serious behaviour problems later on. Taking my knowledge as a trainer and behaviourist and reflecting on my own experiences with my puppy I have put together my ultimate list of dos and don'ts for puppy socialisation.

A cockapoo puppy chews on a toy
Even before going on walks you can start socialising your puppy at home

DO follow vaccination and healthcare advice

Vets are not there to confuse you or trip you up. Puppies are still building their immune system when you take them out, and they must be vaccinated to ensure their safety. Follow healthcare advice given to avoid exposing your puppy to preventable illnesses.

DON'T take risks regarding safety

Whether you are doing socialisation from the car or you are at the stage where your pup is walking on the ground, do not take risks with safety. I know of puppies who have jumped 5ft out of a human's arms, and puppies who have slipped out of their harnesses and run across main roads. Finally, always remember to secure your dog in the car.

DO go out and experience the world

As mentioned above, once your pup has settled into their new home you can start to carry them outdoors or, if like me your puppy is already 10KG, you can park the car and watch the world go by. This should be built up in stages, starting in quieter areas with smaller levels of activity before increasing gently into busier and more varied areas. You want your puppy to experience everything the human world has to offer, so think about anything they may never have seen before and allow them to take their time and observe how it works.

DON'T let your dog approach everything it wants to

It it thought that a major cause of lead frustration (presenting as reactivity) is due to puppies having unfettered access to dogs and people when they are babies. Once they are bigger it can be very difficult to explain why they cannot approach everyone and everything. So, a 50/50 rule works quite well, approaching 50% of the time and watching calmly for the other 50%. This also means that your dog is prepared to walk past a dog that needs their space.

DO make positive associations

Preventing your dog from approaching something doesn't mean that they can't learn in a constructive and positive way. For example, spending time on a park bench with some training treats can start to form positive associations regarding walks, people and various other things. This is particularly important if you identify something they are worried about, which leads me onto my next point...

DON'T force your dogs into situations they don't like

Nothing good will come of forcing a puppy into a situation they cannot cope with. Instead, take your time and allow them to approach when they feel ready. If they cannot approach in this instance then remove them from the situation and try again next time.

The only caveat to this of course is the few circumstances in which your puppy has no choice, for example with a vet visit. Try to make those instances as positive and calm as you possibly can.

DO journey outside of your home

During the sensitive period your dog should experience a multitude of different environments. If they only experience the field behind your house you cannot expect them to cope with a busy coffee shop in a few weeks time. This may also help with car travel as it will encourage your puppy to habituate quickly.

DON'T expect your dog to manage a whole day out

A 12 week old puppy should not be expected to cope with an entire day out of the house. If it is absolutely necessary you should take a familiar bed and prepare an environment for them to rest in throughout the day. In my experience dogs are unlikely to cope with a whole day outside of the house until they are a couple of years old. The time spent on their feet coupled with the mental stimulation they are experiencing is too much for a young dog.

DO stick to your regular routine (wherever possible)

Dogs thrive on routine, so this one speaks for itself.

DON'T underestimate the importance of decompression and sleep

I will say it until I am blue in the face, sleep is your friend. If you have a busy few hours on Saturday you should allow your puppy to sleep and decompress on the Sunday. This is particularly important if something challenging has happened (for example a stressful vet visit) as you want them to rebound fully rested.

I hope this has been helpful for any new, or soon to be, puppy parents out there. You can download my free PDF:

Puppy Care 101
Download PDF • 256KB

or reach out to for further support!

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