Puppies are born into this world deaf and blind, yet their learning and socialising begins immediately. During their first 16 weeks, all of their experience and interactions will shape the nature of the dog they will grow to become. Litter-mates, its mother, strangers, other dogs – all of them will make an impression.
From his mother, the puppy will learn crucial social skills and how to interact with others, skills which he will practice with his litter-mates. Pups that are removed from their mothers and litters too early in life (eight weeks or younger) are very often socially inept with people and other dogs.
Socialising should start with a reputable breeder. So if you’re looking for a puppy, you need to vet your breeder as much as their puppies. Imprinting and social exercises can allow puppies to experience various situations they will encounter later in life in a safe and positive environment. The more diverse experiences the puppies can be positively exposed too early in life will help be more confident and better equipped to deal with stress and problem solving as an adult.
Getting your puppy home
This early life socialisation doesn’t stop when you bring your new puppy home – it continues in earnest. Expose your pup to safe, new situations in a calm, confident and rewarding manner for desired behaviours.
One of the most important times in a pup’s life is between the ages of eight to 11 weeks where they go through what is called a “fear period”, which typically lasts for a couple of weeks. During this time, puppies may appear to be fearful of stimuli which they have previously been comfortable with and it’s important not to respond to this with coddling or attention, or you will reinforce the new reaction. Instead, remain confident in yourself and go on with calm praise for the correct reaction. Meeting new
dogs, is often a scary time for new owners, let alone the puppy but it doesn’t need to be stressful and can be controlled. It is important that your puppy have good experiences early, so try and pick the dogs you work with. Signing up for group classes is always a good bet as it teaches your dog to pay attention to you in a variety of distracting scenarios with the added benefit of some doggie interaction too.
On-leash and off-leash is often of concern to owners – whilst off-leash allows your pup the freedom to roam and investigate, having them on-leash gives the owner more confidence and control. However, tension on the leash will lead to tension in the dog, and can actually cause more problems. The best thing to do is do lots of focus work with your pup to get them responding to you. So when you’re out and about you can practice this, even in the presence of other unknown dogs.
Regardless of future plans for your puppy, it is important to remember that he is still a puppy and should not be pushed harder than he can handle.
Any socialisation or training should be a good experience to maintain interest and make it fun for you both. Though dogs go through several life stages before they reach maturity, a strong foundation from the start makes all the difference.