The Importance of Socialising Your Pup

    Two puppies sleeping together

    When it comes to owning a well-adjusted pet dog, the developmental stage which occurs in the few short weeks from 3 to 12-16 weeks of age is, without doubt, the most important. This is called the Socialisation Period, and it is during this time that pups learn how to form social bonds with humans, other dogs, and any other living creature, and become habituated to the sights and sounds he will experience throughout his life.

    Between the ages of 3 to 16 weeks, pups go through their maximum rate of mental development. At no other stage in their life do they have this capacity to absorb so much information. As the ideal age at which to rehome a pup is 8 weeks, a large chunk of the pup’s Socialisation Period occurs while he’s still with the breeder or rescue. As their early work will dictate what type of adults our pups grow into, it is important to make sure your pup’s breeder or rescue group are fully aware of the part they play in socialising your pup.

    Woman holding a puppy

    It is vital that pups learn how to interact appropriately with humans of all ages, and with other dogs. This means allowing pup to meet new people and new dogs every day, maximising his exposure to new and novel situations. As adults, dogs which do not gain these skills during their Socialisation Period are more likely to become nervous, suspicious, even aggressive towards the beings he has not been socialised with. These dogs are more likely to growl at strangers (particularly men), snap at children, or go berserk at the sight of another dog.

    Research shows that early handling from birth results in pups which are better able to cope with stress and novel situations as adults, and pups which play happily with children and adults, enjoying being with humans. It is therefore critical that the breeder/rescue allows pups to interact with different people from an early age, so that strong social bonds are formed between pup and humans of all ages, shapes and sizes.

    Two puppies sat close together

    With other dogs, pups learn many of their social skills by playing with their littermates. They wrestle, bite, and play, all the while learning about dog communication, body language, and how to interpret other dogs. A little later, pups need to meet a wide variety of other dogs of different shapes and sizes, so that they can fine-hone their communication skills with dogs they don’t know.

    Pups that don’t learn these communication skills often end up getting into fights or become excessively fearful of other dogs, because they are confused and bamboozled by the other dogs as they can’t understand what the other dog is “saying”.

    Another important process which is going on in tandem with the Socialisation Period is “habituation”. This is the process whereby pups become gradually acclimatised to many different objects, environments and situations. For example, a pup reared in a household environment will be used to washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and general hustle and bustle of home life by the time he goes to his new home. Pups reared outside the home do not become habituated to home life, and as a result the sudden changes experienced at rehoming can be stressful and frightening for them. These pups become frightened by visitors coming and going, are not happy with kids playing and shouting around them, are fearful of loud noises and household appliances, and are harder to train as they tend to lack confidence.

    A good breeder/rescue will not only ensure adequate socialisation with humans, but also allow pups plenty of time for play and learning with siblings. An enriched environment for pups, with lots of handling by different people of all ages, plenty of toys and activities, and opportunity to explore inside and out every day, will result in a well habituated, steady adult dog.

    Furthermore, pups which have experienced a variety of different situations at this early age are better at adjusting to novel situations later. They tend to be more curious and confident, and as a result, they learn faster. So some early work will pay dividends for the rest of the dog’s life, for both dog and owner!

    By Maureen Byrne Ph.D.