The purpose of socialization is to raise a puppy that is not fearful. Fearful dogs are unhappy and more likely to be aggressive and bite people than confident, fearless dogs.
The following article on how to socialize your puppy is from ‘The Right Start,’ which can be purchased from the Gundog Club website.
Table of Contents
Socialising your puppy
The window for socialization could be more prominent. It is closing fast at fourteen weeks of age and is almost certainly completed by the sixteenth week. You need to act quickly.
Your objective is to expose your dog to a wide variety of standard everyday occurrences that he would not be exposed to if he had spent his first sixteen weeks alone at home with you. The easiest way to achieve this is to list the main categories for socialization and ‘check off’ as each one is encountered and accepted by the puppy. Some scary things need to be revisited until he is comfortable with them. Socialization can be divided into two phases: pre-vaccination and post-vaccination. You should work through all the categories possible in the pre-vaccination phase with the puppy in your arms and then repeat the procedure with the puppy on the lead during the post-vaccination phase.
Until your puppy’s vaccinations are fully effective, you must keep him away from other dogs whose vaccination status is unknown. You will also need to keep him away from anywhere such a dog may have used as a toilet. Therefore, Your puppy must be carried in your arms in any public area. Unfortunately, the countryside is also hazardous as foxes and rats can carry fatal diseases from which your puppy needs protection. Therefore, the rule is to bring him until his vaccine status is maximum. Your vet will tell you exactly when this is, but usually, it is one week after his final vaccination at about 12 weeks old. As you can see, this leaves very little time for the post-vaccination socialization phase.
This is a critical time to get your puppy used to car travel as you will frequently go out and about with him. Don’t worry if he is sick for the first few journeys. Avoid traveling after a meal; the sickness will typically pass within a few days. Check with your vet if carsickness persists or you are concerned.
When, at last, you can put your puppy down on the ground in public places and in the countryside, you will have a busy two weeks ahead of you. In this phase, you must take your puppy out and about to as many locations as possible before the critical window closes.
These are the main categories to which you should socialize your puppy. Some classes overlap, so you can ‘kill two birds with one stone.’ If you can make a real effort to ensure that your dog is comfortable in each category, he will likely grow up confident and friendly no matter where he finds himself in later life.
It is crucial to ensure your dog is well socialized to all different kinds of strange people. Just because your puppy has met many adult friends does not mean he is well-mixed. He must meet people of different sizes and sexes in various clothing (uniforms, casual clothes, reflective gear, motorcycle helmets, etc.). Most importantly of all, he needs to meet children of different ages. Tiny children move differently, sound different from older children and adults, and behave unpredictably. Make sure your puppy is not nervous of children of any age.
Lorries and buses, cars and trains, bicycles and clanking dustbin lorries, noisy tractors and motorbikes. Your dog should be comfortable in their presence. A town center will expose your pup to most of these things in one go.
Standing outside your local supermarket with a puppy in your arms will quickly introduce him to various people. Puppies are ‘people magnets,’ and you will be surrounded by admirers within minutes. Visit your local school gates at the end of the school day, and he will meet many children. A trip to the railway station is also an exciting and valuable experience for a puppy. The high street of a busy town should be included, and if it is summer, you can take the pup to some summer fairs or shows.
You can visit the countryside’s fields, woods, rivers, and ponds. He will learn to clamber through mud and leaves, heather and bracken. Try to explore different types of terrain, and unless it is freezing, introduce your pup to splashing about in the water. Puddles first, then shallow streams and ponds. Getting him swimming about happily now will stand him in good stead later. Most of this will need to take place post-vaccination.
If you have an opportunity, you can introduce your puppy to livestock in a very controlled manner. He can look at some cows or horses from your arms. The objective is not to train him to behave amongst them. That comes later. This is just to ensure that he is not afraid of them.
Most important is your dog’s ability to get along with other dogs. Although dog-to-dog socialization is crucial, it is also essential for you to remember that you cannot predict the behavior of other people’s dogs. Don’t be too hurried to introduce your puppy to stranger’s dogs, as a bad experience can have long-lasting effects. If you have a friend with an amiable, not too bouncy, vaccinated adult dog, introduce them by all means, but supervise closely. Even the most excellent adult dogs can find other people’s puppies a ‘bit much.’
Some dog trainers run puppy socialization classes for small puppies with their first vaccinations. If you can join a good class like this, it will help socialize your puppy with other puppies. Try and find a class that a friend has recommended, as standards vary, and sufficient supervision should be available.
Keeping it up
Once the ‘window’ for socialization ends, your puppy will become more reserved about engaging in new activities. Working through the categories above will ensure he can cope with most of life’s regular events. Do keep taking him out and about and revisit some of the above scenarios occasionally. This will help to keep him confident and unafraid and set him up for a happy life as a balanced canine citizen.
I hope you enjoyed this extract from The Right Start. You can purchase a copy from the Gundog Club bookshop.