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How to socialise a puppy

Golden labradors puppies

Socialising a puppy will help it be safe in life

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It is good practice to start socialising your puppy the moment you bring them home. But what does this involve?

By Karen Wild, CCAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:24

New experiences form a huge part of a puppy’s learning, and builds a confident, outgoing older dog. Did you know that the crucial socialisation period does not last more than a few weeks? Here’s how to get the best socialisation experience possible for your puppy.

Puppies need to meet and greet a large number of new people and other dogs, learning as they go about the outside world. Behaviour problems can arise from a lack of socialisation, but with lockdown, this has meant their social skills may be affected due to restrictions on contact. The goal is to pair new experiences with something rewarding, so that the puppy’s brain forms a positive connection.

Our guide to active social interaction, even when puppy parties may not be available, means that our young puppies can still enjoy and experience the spice of life. Teaching your puppy is a lot of fun, so let’s start helping them with a mix of games, training and daily contact.

When should I start socialising my puppy?

Puppy socialisation starts the moment your puppy becomes aware of the outside world. This is long before they come to their new home with you! They have to have the right socialisation since birth. Pups learn about their siblings, their mother, and touch, smell, hear and see more and more as they develop. A breeder should always ensure that puppy experiences gentle handling in their early weeks. From around 8-9 weeks old puppies come to their new homes, and it becomes your responsibility to teach them these social skills.

Puppy socialisation: What is the best way to socialise a puppy?

Young puppies can be carried around until their vaccinations are complete, so there is no need to delay. Puppy parties used to be available at puppy training classes and at vets, but since you may have got a puppy during lockdown, you will have to access other social interaction. Start socialising by taking puppy with you as part of life daily, seeing, hearing and smelling the day to day experiences in any public place. They can enjoy the outside world in a positive way, and when the vet agrees, can walk on different surfaces, and may visit other homes and meet other pups and dogs.

Take a look at our more detailed guide on how to introduce a stranger to your dog, so that you can help puppy adapt to new people.

Your puppy needs to meet and greet anyone who will be offering pet care, such as dog walkers, groomers, and don’t forget to visit your nearest local pet shop too. Your puppy also needs an introduction to their pet sitter, home boarder or local boarding dog kennels so that you can take your holidays worry-free.

Car travel can be made fun and enjoyable, by providing tasty food (most puppies will do anything for a treat).

Above all, build up gradually.

How to socialise a puppy: 10 top tips

1. Visit the vet

Not only is this your chance to check that your pup is healthy but it also acts as a great early socialisation experience (Note: If your pup hasn’t had their vaccinations yet, it’s best to keep them in your arms and not get too close to the other animals in the surgery).

2. Take short trips by bus, train, car

If you intend for your pooch to come along with you then get them used to travelling as soon as possible.

3. Introduce them to friends and family

Try to make sure that they get to meet people of both genders and all ages. Children behave very differently to adults so it’s ideal for your new pup to meet both!

4. Encourage gentle handling

While strokes and cuddles may seem perfectly natural to you if you’ve had dogs before, it may not be quite so easy for the puppy yet. Make sure your family and friends get the memo: handle the pup gently while they get used to you.

5. Acclimatise them to sounds

There are many household noises that we don’t think twice about but could be alarming to a dog (vacuums, washing machines, doorbells). If a puppy hears these in the early days then they’ll soon learn that they’re no cause for concern.

6. Let them meet other pets

Puppies are inquisitive and playful creatures and other animals seem to sense that they’re young and non-threatening. If you have other pets then carefully introduce them to one another as soon as you can.

7.Give consistent commands

Be sure to use consistent commands right away. Use clear words as commands and don’t chop and change what you say. You’ll be surprised how quickly your pup understands you!

8. Slow things down if necessary

Does your pup seem confused or overwhelmed? Don’t be afraid to slow things down and step back a little. Keeping your puppy reassured and letting them know that they’re safe is the best thing you can do right now.

9. Introduce them to adult dogs once vaccinations are complete

As soon as your pup has had their second set of vaccinations, get them used to meeting other dogs right away.

10. Try a puppy training class

Puppy training classes will prove invaluable to dog owners, and they’ll be lots of fun too!

Can puppies socialise with other dogs?

You will need to check with your vet, and local Covid-19 secure guidelines first, since infection control is paramount. If your family or ‘bubble’ own dogs, then as long as you follow your vet’s advice, it is often best for puppies to meet and mix with other dogs. Take into account the reasons that canine encounters are important. Dogs are going to meet other dogs for their entire lives, so they need to have positive experiences from an early age.

Is it ok for puppies to meet other dogs?

It’s a good idea to recruit confident, generous adult dogs or other puppies that may be around the same energy level as your puppy at first. Your puppy needs to learn all about dogs and other animals, so that behaviour problems do not develop. A good dog training class can help you get to know other owners and teach your puppy that even under lockdown, other dogs are around and are a big part of their social group.

Introducing my puppy to other dogs

Ensure that you follow Covid-19 secure safety advice at all times.

You could put your pup on a lead and walk them in places where you can introduce your pup to different dogs, even at a social distance. You could take your pup to friends’ homes and if not, the pup can still experience other people when they visit your vet practice. By the time your puppy is around 11-12 weeks of age, the socialisation window starts to close, so don’t delay.

Can my 8 week old puppy be around other dogs?

There is a risk of contagious disease with puppies whose immune systems may not have developed to cope with any infection (or their vaccinations have not taken effect). At this point it’s wise to ask your vet practice for their advice on whether or not your pup can be introduced to other dogs.

How do I socialise my 8 week old puppy?

Carry your puppy with you to plenty of public places, let them meet your vet, be around young children, experience gentle handling, and of course, make sure they have a good time! They will usually do anything for a treat, so keep a stash on hand. Be sure to experience the outside world, but also the inside world - the washing machine, vacuum cleaners, but also having their whole body touched in an enjoyable way.

Can my 10 week old puppy be around other dogs?

At 10 weeks of age it is unlikely that your puppy will have completed their vaccination course and as such, they are at risk from contagious disease. However you should talk to your local vet practice since they can advise what may or may not be safe in your local area.

Puppy socialisation before vaccinations: Can unvaccinated puppies be around dogs?

Your vet will have a good idea of what diseases are likely to be prevalent at your puppy’s age, and this will vary depending on when their vaccinations were given. An unvaccinated puppy is at risk of infectious disease so whilst we are waiting for their immune systems to develop, you should double check with your vet what is possible.

How to socialise a timid puppy?

A timid puppy may need additional support so that they do not experience behaviour problems as an adult dog. Teaching your puppy using a mix of games can bolster their confidence through enjoyment as they come to learn and form new brain connections as a result of positive interactions.

Puppy class trainers will assist you to build their confidence if you advise them that your pup is a little timid.

Remember that your pup needs to get to know their groomer too, so arrange a short introduction visit with them, maybe just for a little bath and practice trim. With other pet care such as your dog walker, go with them to take your puppy on a short walk.

How to socialise a puppy in lockdown?

Puppies under lockdown can still experience gentle handling, the company of people (even at a social distance), can enjoy car travel and all the other new experiences that come as the member of a family. Distract the puppy with games when they are a little unsure, take them to puppy-training class, and don’t forget that your vet practice is another valuable piece of enjoyable social learning for them too.

The humble washing machine, vacuum cleaner, and plenty of other household experiences can help too - how about making bath time into fun and games time?

How to socialise a puppy with a cat?

This very much depends on the cat. Some cats are already wary of dogs, and may run.

When you bring your puppy home, rub their scent on a tea towel by gently stroking the pup with it, and allow the cat to sniff it. Repeat in reverse so that they get used to one another’s smell.

Never let the puppy chase the cat - you are asking for problems.

Keep the puppy on their lead around the cat, and always allow the cat to come and go as they feel comfortable.

You should find they become best friends - if the cat is keen, that is!

Can I take my puppy to a friend’s house?

You can take your pup to a friend’s house but be wary of overwhelming them. Your little pooch is only just getting used to his or her new home so try to avoid shipping them around to a number of different places.

What is the socialisation period for puppies?

The sooner your socialise your puppy, the better!

The socialisation period for puppies can vary from one breed to another, but in general, a puppy needs to start its socialisation at around 8-9 weeks of age, as this is a natural development stage for puppies. Beyond 11 weeks of age, your puppy will find it harder to adapt to new experiences.

Of course, before you start socialising your puppy, make sure it is vaccinated. If you get an older puppy, vaccinations might delay socialisation and this delay will be proven to cause behavioural problems when your puppy becomes an adult dog.