And why it's vital during their early years
Pets are amazing, aren't they? They're always by our side, and for many of us, they've provided the constant companionship that's helped our sanity during constant lockdowns and work from home orders.
One thing that was seen during the pandemic was people having more time for a new puppy, and puppy sales and adoption rates went through the roof.
And as a dog lover, I think that's great. I understand the value and love a dog brings to your life.
But they're also a lot of hard work and need to be well-trained during their early years to become healthy and happy dogs. Socialising your puppy is vital for this, and many pet owners have found this particularly hard during lockdowns.
We're stuck at home, it's cold and wet (in Melbourne anyway), and puppies aren't getting out to learn about the world!
Why socialising your puppy is vital for their wellbeing?
A bit like humans, pups go through growth and learning stages in their early years of development. In the first year and a half, your puppy has critical socialisation times, including fear periods. It's during this time that they need to experience the world.
They need to:
Hear different noises – cars, kids playing, birds squawking, dog barking
Walk on different surfaces – concrete, dirt, sand, gravel
Go on car rides and sniff all the different smells out the window
Meet other dogs and learn how to be 'friendly'
Be introduced to kids and adults who don't live with you
These types of positive experiences help them to become well-adjusted dogs. These positive experiences help your pup to become tolerant of external influences. They will remain calm, and you'll have a happy and healthy dog that is well behaved.
What happens if a puppy doesn't socialise?
Can you imagine keeping your child inside 24/7 without meeting anyone, being around animals, or never going to a park or playgroup? Not only would they be super bored, but you'll find they lack the social skills needed to survive in the world.
The same goes for your puppy.
Yes, it's hard during a pandemic as there are not as many puppy schools running, and we can't have people over to our homes, but you still need to be aware of the importance of socialising.
If you don't, you'll end up with a stressed and reactive dog who doesn't know 'how to act' in public.
Act aggressively to other dogs as they see them as a threat
Miss cues that another dog doesn't like them jumping around (they may be excited, but an older cranky dog may not appreciate it)
Be wary of other kids and adults and react to people getting too close for a pat
Freak out at any strange noises and develop anxiety
An unsocialised dog will start to find outside world experiences as unfavourable, and this is where behavioural problems begin.
So, how do you help your dog to socialise?
To start, make sure you're taking your pup out on regular walks. This helps them get used to the world around them – cars, different surfaces, passing other dogs and humans and so on. Reward their good behaviour when they behave well.
For example, when they meet another dog and remain calm and sniff, pat them and tell them that they did well. However, if they bark or lunge at the other dog, you'll need to pull them up so they learn that behaviour isn't acceptable. You'll need to be patient and continue socialising your pup until meeting another dog becomes a normal reaction.
When you're allowed to have visitors, invite people who are good with dogs and won't rush at them. Give your dog a safe spot (a bed nearby or in a quieter room), so they don't feel trapped or scared.
Allow your pup to approach the visitors in their own time.
Although you're excited to show off your new pup, and your visitors are probably hanging out for a cuddle, you don't want your puppy to freak out being handled by unknown people. When your pup greets your visitors on their terms, reward the good behaviour.
If you're finding it particularly hard to socialise your pup, you can also turn to professional dog trainers for some advice, tips and tricks.
The more you can calmly introduce your pup to the outside world, the better adjusted they'll be to handling different situations, people and animals.
Regular walking is a great way to socialise your pup
When your pup is out and about daily, you'll find they cope so much better with socialising. They come to realise other dogs aren't threats but a friend to sniff! They don't freak out by different noises that happen around them. They also learn that other humans are ok and not a threat to you or them.
Try to take them for a stroll in the park or along tracks where you'll see other dogs. If you're worried about how another dog may react to your pup, ask the owner! All you need to say is that you're training your puppy and ask permission to allow your pup to approach their dog. They'll know the temperament of their dog and if it's a good or bad idea to let your puppy too close.
If you're finding it too hard to get out for a walk, or you're back at work and don't have as much time to get out for a walk, I'm here to help with my dog walking and sitting services. I'd love to help you get your pup out and about and socialising in their early development stages.