What is the most important thing you need to do with your new puppy?
You need to socialise your puppy effectively before they are 16 weeks of age, sooner for some breeds – and then maintain fear free experiences throughout their lives.
Why am I saying that this is the most important thing? Failure to socialise your puppy effectively is the single most common cause of behaviour problems in dogs. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior highlight the point and state that “Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age”. This is why they recommend that puppies should receive effective socialisation before they are fully vaccinated. Puppy socialisation starts as soon as they are born which puts a great deal of the responsibility firmly in the hands of the breeder, although it switches to you, the moment you bring them home.
But what is Puppy Socialisation? Socialisation is about safe, careful and positive exposure to the world. The aim is to build confidence through experience with lots of different environmental stimuli. Exposure to people, other animals, to being handled, to noises and to lots of different places, making sure that your puppy never becomes stressed or fearful. Puppies should learn about adults, children, elderly people, different surfaces, noises, traffic and other puppies and dogs; all before 16 weeks of age. Socialisation is not about overcoming or facing your fears and it is not about uncontrolled play with other puppies – this can result in a fearful puppy and lead to associated behavioural problems. It’s about setting your puppy up for success in life by ensuring they have nothing to fear.
Professional puppy training classes can provide a safe environment where puppies can be exposed to people and other puppies in a safe way whilst learning some very important life skills – puppy classes should be considered a must for all puppy guardians. It is important to do your homework and ensure that the classes you attend are suitable – punitive treatment or aversive training techniques can cause significant behavioural problems – search for a force-free or certified trainer and be sure you are in safe hands.
When considering socialisation for your puppy the rules are simple, you cannot over socialise – but you must ensure that each new experience is positive and fear free.
For a great resource and puppy socialisation checklist, click here.