Puppy socialisation

Socialisation is a term that is often used in dog training books, in dog magazines and by breeders and trainers. But what does it actually mean and how will it affect you as a new puppy owner?

Like human children, puppies are not born with the social skills that they require to live with their family, be that a canine family or a human one. The term "socialisation" in simple terms means the learning process that a puppy must undergo in order to learn key life skills to ensure that it is happy and confident in its environment, and can communicate effectively within its social group. We ask a huge amount from our dogs in their role as a companion animal, as not only do they need to understand humans and the human world, they also need to become fluent in the language of dog.

This involves having pleasant social interactions with adults, children, vets, adult dogs and other animals, as well as careful exposure to different situations in the environment like traffic, crowds, travelling in the car, vacuum cleaners and any sights and sounds it will have to cope with in life. It is so important that this is done thoroughly and correctly when your puppy is still young and he is young enough to happily accept new things.

The Puppy Socialisation Plan

Until now there was no definitive plan for effectively socialising your puppy, which was resulting in rescue centres seeing increasing numbers of dogs coming to them with behavioural issues that could have been avoided with proper socialisation. In order to counteract this, the Kennel Club and Dogs Trust have jointly devised a socialisation plan for both breeders and new owners to follow as a step by step guide - it is called the Puppy Socialisation Plan. Both the Kennel Club and Dogs Trust recommend the Puppy Socialisation Plan as an effective plan for breeders and new owners to prepare their puppies as best they can for life as family pets. It is simple to complete, and can be tailored to suit you and your lifestyle, so it is highly recommended that novice breeders and new owners follow the Plan.

It is critical that this is done from birth up to 16 weeks of age, otherwise important learning and development phases have passed. The Plan covers everything from getting used to household noises, to getting out and about and meeting new people and other dogs. Therefore, you need to plan and incorporate some extremely important life lessons during the early stages of your puppy's development, so that you end up with a well-balanced and sociable dog.

As well as a week by week task list to follow there are also a whole host of videos to help you along with your Puppy Socialisation Plan tasks - all of which can be found on the Puppy Socialisation Plan YouTube channel.

Puppy discipline

In order to become a good family pet, it is important that you teach your puppy to understand right from wrong. Everyone in the household should agree to a set of rules, which everyone must follow consistently. You should discourage puppy actions such as jumping up, mouthing, play biting, stealing, chewing, barking, pawing, begging or mounting, which may be endearing when they are puppies, but will make them antisocial as adult dogs.

You should take every opportunity to praise your puppy for good manners and divert it from undesirable behaviour, as this will reinforce the correct behaviour. It is both not fair and counterproductive to punish your puppy for things it has done when you have had your back turned e.g. finding a hole in your garden or a hole in your sofa after the incident has taken place. If you do catch your puppy doing something it shouldn't, whether that be trying to pilfer food from the kitchen cupboards or nibbling the furniture, interrupt and then distract them with a toy or a game and then praise them when they are settled and doing what you want them to be doing.

Dog training classes

Most owners can benefit from attending good training classes, and training in the company of other dogs is very useful because of the realistic distractions this involves. Ideally, you should start your classes as soon as your puppy's vaccinations are complete, but classes can be invaluable for older dogs too! Every puppy needs to be taught good manners and have constructive lessons in basic control. This includes responding to its name, how to greet and behave politely around people and dogs, coming back when called, walking nicely on the lead, sit, down and stay on command, and allowing itself to be groomed and examined by you and your vet. As a dog owner you also need to learn what laws affect you and your dog.

It is important to find a good dog training class to teach you how to stimulate your puppy and show you methods to use that can prevent and correct different types of actions. Most Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme training clubs will offer the Puppy Foundation course, specifically designed for your individual needs. These will guide and teach you and your puppy effective control and good manners.

Alternatively, try to ensure that the course is run by a Kennel Club Accredited Instructor. All KCAI members are guided by the Kennel Club's Code of Practice, giving an assurance of their commitment to provide dog owners with a good service. The scheme encourages high standards for dog training and behavioural advice, where all scheme members are examined and registered for their individual levels of expertise.

It is vital that you are patient with your puppy - do not expect too much too quickly as all young animals need time to learn what we expect of them. Puppies learn at a very fast rate, so it is essential that you understand the importance of teaching useful and positive lessons early on that will benefit your puppy throughout its life and help to prevent the most common (and predictable) training and behaviour problems.

Click here for information about getting started with dog training

Be prepared for adolescence

Adolescence can be a difficult time for even the most experienced of dog owners, a period during which your puppy's behaviour may deteriorate considerably.  Try not to worry - it soon passes!.

Don't be afraid to ask

If you have any specific problems during this time, speak to your breeder or dog trainer and they will advise you how best to overcome them.  Problems with puppies are usually easily solved so ask for advice sooner rather than later, as problems can be harder to rectify in the long run if you don't correct them by training the desired behaviour.


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