Socialisation is the developmental process whereby puppies familiarise themselves with their constantly changing surroundings. Socialisation is the process of positively introducing your puppy to places, people, animals, sounds, objects and obstacles. It is how they work out what is safe and good as opposed to what is dangerous and not-so-good.
Socialisation is also time sensitive. The older your puppy gets, the harder preventing behaviour problems becomes. Up until 3-4 months of age your puppy’s brain is very open and accepting of what he comes across – socialisation window. After that, your puppy is genetically preprogrammed to become wary of new things, making it harder to shape him into an easygoing, friendly adult dog. Anything you want your puppy to cheerfully accept as an adult—people of all kinds, animals, things, and situations—you must introduce him to often and in a positive manner early!
When it comes to socialisation there unfortunately is no “one formula fits all”… Socialisation must be tailored to your puppy. It’s critical that you go at your puppy’s pace when socialising him, and never force him to interact with something. Creating positive associations to new experiences is essential. While simple exposure does play a role, it is not enough. Make a habit of linking your puppy’s new experiences to food or play.
Empower your puppy by ALLOWING HIM TO CHOOSE what he does and does not want to interact with.
OK, so how to socialise your puppy?
• Think about the things your puppy will see every week as an adult: Visit those places, see those people, or experience those things now.
• Help your puppy form positive associations: Cheer and praise him when he encounters something new. Offer a treat/play whenever possible.
Step 1. If your puppy seems even a bit nervous, move a little distance away, give him treats, and then walk away—anything he is unsure about should be encountered in short bursts.
Step 2. As soon as your puppy seems more relaxed, try again. As he sees or hears the thing that scared him before, start your cheerful praise and break out the treats.
Step 3. If your puppy did not seem nervous with the new thing or acts curious about it after he has been treated, go back and let him investigate a little more. Again, praise and treat.
Under-socialised dogs are at much greater risk of developing all sorts of behavioural problems stemming from fear—aggression, agoraphobia, and reactivity towards certain people and animals, for example.
Teach your puppy that the world is safe and prevent behaviour problems in the future!