Having a well-adjusted dog that is comfortable around people, other animals and in various settings starts in puppyhood, with a good dose of socialisation. Here are some tips on how to get the process started.
Much like little people, your puppy learns to deal with the world through how she experiences it. But unlike her human counterparts, your four-legged addition to the family has a far shorter timeframe in which to learn these coping skills.
Experts refer to this as the “sensitive period”, a window lasting until the little scamp is 12 to 16 weeks old, in which time she learns to respond appropriately to any given situation. As you generally only receive your puppy at eight weeks old, this time span is therefore very short, but you can achieve a lot in that time.
Ideally all your puppy’s socialising experiences should be in an environment where she can explore safely, otherwise you can end up with a nervous dog that reacts to fearful situations by barking, lunging and snapping.
There are also different schools of thought on whether the pup should be housebound until she’s had the full range of shots, or whether to get her out into the real world as soon as possible. If you do take her out, always carry her in your arms or in a bag or basket.
The world is a noisy place, so get your puppy used to as many sounds as possible – cars hooting and revving, loud bangs, even a phone ringing. Busy malls are also a good place for your puppy to become acclimatised to a lot of racket.
If your puppy is an only child, it may be a good idea to take her to a dog park or puppy socialisation classes where she can interact with other dogs.
While she is still very small, it’s best to just sit with her on your lap so she can absorb all the action around her from a safe distance. When she’s a bit older and had all her vaccinations, you can let her explore – on a leash, of course – so she gets used to the different textures and smells on the ground.
People do scare dogs, so introduce your puppy to humans of different ethnicities, shapes and sizes and even with different characteristics, such as men with beards.
If your puppy is people shy, invite different friends to your home. Get them to sit still and ignore the pup, let the pup approach in her own time – don’t bribe or entice her, but do reward her with a treat whenever she grows bolder and ventures closer to your visitor.
Your puppy will pick up on your signals, so when you’re happy and comfortable in a situation and act like you’re having fun, she will too.
The best way to reinforce appropriate behaviour is to offer a reward. Likewise ignore or give a signal for those you don’t want to encourage. If she doesn’t respond to the signal, try a time out by removing her from the activity.
Your puppy will soon tell you if she is unhappy in a situation by:
- Cowering or clinging
- Putting her ears down and back
- Licking her lips
- Sleeping (all puppies like a good nap, but it can also be a sign that she isn’t enjoying what’s going on.)
- Tucking her tail
- Turning her head or body away from people who approach
Socialising your puppy does take time and effort, but the end result is a happy dog.
By Nicci Botha
DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.