On getting a new puppy, one of the first things people think of (after ‘man, this puppy pees a lot!!’) is socialisation. It’s a word that’s well associated with puppy ownership. But what does it mean?
Socialisation is a process by which animals learn what is safe and what is rewarding to interact with. This comes from their wild heritage. Dogs have what we call a ‘socialisation window’ – this is the time during which they will find it easiest to accept novel stimuli and after this window closes, they can find some new things frightening, unsafe and aversive.
In the wild this serves an important purpose – as a wild dog it’s unsafe to approach anything and everything without suspicion. If unsure – staying away is more likely to result in survival, so that’s how wild dogs have evolved (the ones that stay safe live long enough to breed and pass on their traits). Domestic dogs don’t need to be as suspicious of things because there isn’t as much danger and their breeding takes place mostly through artificial selection (people choose which dogs will breed) rather than the natural selection of their wild counterparts, so they have evolved to have a longer socialisation window (meaning they experience more and become wary of less) than wild dogs. Clever, huh?!
Even so, domestic dog puppies have a lot to learn about the world and it’s essential that in their first few weeks (the exact time frame is unknown and differs between breeds and individuals, but the average consensus is upto around 16 weeks) they must gain lots of positive experience with different stimuli.
Socialising your puppy doesn’t just mean exposing him to lots of things. If he has unpleasant experiences with things, he’s more likely to avoid those things in the future, so it is important that he is exposed to things at a rate that he is comfortable with, and that he finds this exposure rewarding.
It’s impossible to expose your puppy to absolutely everything he might encounter in his lifetime, but the good news is, that the more you do expose him to, the easier he will find it when he’s older to cope with new experiences – even those that he may not have encountered during his early socialisation. Whereas, if a puppy has few novel experiences with positive outcomes during his early socialisation, he may find it harder to cope with new things in future life.
But what, or who, do you socialise a puppy with?
Socialisation isn’t just about playing with other dogs or meeting new people – socialising puppies means all sorts of experiences. Try using a mindmap to figure out what you need to expose your puppy to – here’s an example, instead of ‘people’ you would look at specific things:
At Lottie’s School for Dogs, we understand this, and our Puppy Club is aimed at all sorts of socialisation. We do allow our puppies to play together as this helps immensely with learning social manners and bite inhibition. We explain what sort of behaviour to look for to ensure your puppy is happy with the interaction and how to get him out of the situation if he’s not, also how to ensure your puppy isn’t pestering another puppy who has had enough, we help you to know when a break is needed, and when that yelp is just communication and nothing to worry about.
We also work on the pups not always getting to play and being able to walk by another puppy without jumping on it!
We do bring in an older dog to moderate things a little for some sessions, as well as inviting a cat (Billy – the most laid back cat you could meet, who sits watching the puppies who seem to very quickly forget he’s there!), a baby, children, a groomer, etc.
We provide props such as umbrellas and hats and we also have lots of toys for the puppies to share and play with together. We have the puppies taking treats together, taking treats from each other’s humans, and being handled by another pup’s human.
We explain how to hold the puppies and get them used to having their nails clipped, build up to holding them still for veterinary exams and grooming, and even more!
We do all of this in just half hour sessions so the puppies don’t get overwhelmed and overloaded. We feel that two sessions a week for just half an hour is much better than one, hour long session during which they get tired and grumpy and it’s not as fun for them.
Whilst we stress that it’s a pay as you go class with no obligation, we believe the best results will be from attending twice a week, but some people choose to come once a week and still get lots out of it.
We also have a closed facebook group just for Puppy Club members to share their experiences, keep in touch between sessions, ask questions, and even arrange puppy play dates!
So what are you waiting for?! Come along and see what it’s all about!
To find out more or register for Puppy Club, check out just select ‘Puppies’ from the top menu!