Socialisation and Life-Skills for your Puppy

Puppies playing together as part of their socialisation

There are fewer things more cute than puppies. Just watching them play and explore lifts spirits and brings a smile to your face. But this is a crucial time for their development. Providing socialisation and life-skills for your puppy is SO IMPORTANT and helps lay the foundation for them to become resilient and emotionally happy dogs.

Here are some of my top tips:

1. Socialise & Habituate Your Puppy Properly

Between the ages of around 3 to 12 weeks of age, puppies are under-going an important developmental phase. This is when they are learning about their environment and begin making positive and negative associations with things around them.

Being exposed to a range of situations in a safe and secure way during this time is important. This includes being introduced to people of all sexes and all age groups, different sights, sounds and other animals.

Take your puppy to different places (in your arms until they have been fully vaccinated) and let them experience all the things they are likely to encounter throughout their life.

Ensure that socialisation is done sensitively. Initially make sure your puppy can observe from a distance and provide some positive reinforcement by giving them praise, cuddles and treats so they can form a positive association with what they are seeing and experiencing.

If you notice any fear then stop what you are doing and move away. This situation can be re-visited later (but not too late) at a distance your puppy feels comfortable with alongside a process called desensitisation and counter-conditioning. If you are in any doubt, seek help from a professional canine behaviour counsellor

For some useful resources specifically to help with socialisation click here

2. Prevent separation anxiety and isolation issues

Dogs are a social species. Given the choice, most dogs would chose to be in the company of others and in the domestic situation that means with us. Therefore puppies need to be taught to cope with a degree of separation and isolation.

Incorporate this training in to their every-day routines:
  • Use baby-gates so that puppy does not continually follow and shadow you but can see you.
  • Begin some very brief out of view departures – just for a few seconds to begin with. Always return before your puppy shows any anxiety.
  • Begin some crate training. Make sure that this is done sensitively and gradually.
  • Encourage your puppy to use the crate.  Sit next to them quietly when they are in there after they have had a play session and are tired or when they are enjoying a stuffed Kong  should help them settle. Over time, you can begin moving away from the crate so they gradually get used to your absence. Do be aware that confinement, without the appropriate training, can cause distress so spend time working on this.

3. Always use positive reinforcement training techniques

Now is a good time to begin some training with your puppy.

Positive reinforcement is the process of encouraging a behaviour by giving a reward when the behaviour is offered. For dogs, food treats, praise and play are useful rewards.

Never use painful or fear-related methods. NO leash jerks, shock collars, choker chains (the clue is in the name!) or other punitive restraining aids, including alpha-rolls.

I recommend puppy training classes with a positive reinforcement, fear-free teacher who has undertaken training with a recognised institute and belongs to a reputable organisation. Puppy training helps lay a solid foundation for your puppy’s future and your trainer will assist you to hone your training skills too.

For lots more information and articles on puppy training click here

4. Begin house-training

Make sure that your puppy is given the opportunity to get it right! This means taking them out regularly to a place where you want them to empty their bladder and bowels. Eventually they will toilet there.  When they do, this is the time to heap on the praise. Play with them for a few minutes afterwards so that they begin to enjoy being outside.

Do make sure that you introduce them to other surfaces and substrates (e.g. gravel, turf, concrete etc.). If not, some puppies may find it hard to learn to toilet else-where.

I also like to pair the act of toileting with a cue. This then helps them associate a word with the action and can help them learn to recognise when you ask them to wee wees or poo poo.

Never chastise for mistakes – this could cause your puppy to eliminate where you can’t see them for fear of your reaction. Instead, pick them up or lead puppy in to the garden calmly so they can finish off outside. Don’t forget to praise them when they do.

5. Prevent play-biting

Puppies often mouth at each other when playing and this can extend to you.  Although this can be cute when they are small, it can become problematic as they get older.

Discourage any play that involves hands and toes. If they do play-bite stop the interaction immediately and remove your attention briefly. When they calm and refrain, then begin to interact and give attention. A puppy-line can help with control and can be useful to back up a cue.

For a video demonstration of what to do if your puppy play-bites click here

6. Manage the environment

Puppies don’t know the difference between a chewy toy you have given and another accessible item, like your shoe! This distinction needs to be taught over time. Therefore it makes sense to manage the environment so they can’t get hold of things you don’t want them to have. This is an important health and safety precaution too so keep cables and other hazardous items out of reach.

7. Don’t grab puppies around the collar

This can be frightening and cause some alarm. Instead, for control and backing up a recall, or for moving them outside quickly for toileting, use a puppy-line.

Puppy-lines should only be attached when your puppy is being supervised by you.

Go to my Free Resources page where you will find a training handout.

8. Learn some canine life-saving skills

Now you have a puppy, it makes sense to have some first aid knowledge. Puppies can get in to a number of fixes so knowing how to deal with a first aid situation could ultimately safe its life. There are a number of useful blog articles on how to deal with certain first aid situations by clicking here. However if you are interested in taking an accredited course in Canine First Aid click here for details and the syllabus outline.

9. Make trips to the vet a positive experience

Puppy parties can help puppies begin to associate the veterinary practice with positive experiences. However making lots of rehearsal visits is a good idea too. Call ahead of your intended visit and ask the receptionist to suggest a quiet time to call. You can then arrange for them to give puppy a treat and a fuss. These pleasant experiences will help your puppy to feel more relaxed about trips to the vets in the future.

10. Recognise the signs of stress and early fear signals

Being able to recognise when our puppy is feeling unnerved is important. Sometimes the signals are very subtle and can be missed.

Look out for these signals when carrying out puppy socialisationSignals include:
  • A lowered ear position
  • Struggling and wriggling
  • A cowering posture
  • Tail tucked close to the bottom

If we, as owners, are able to notice these signs of stress we can take the pressure off by removing them from the fearful stimuli in a measured manner. This can then be noted and worked on more sensitively and/or with the help of a professional behaviour counsellor.

I do hope you’ve learned something from this article. Implementing these simple measures in to your puppy’s daily routine will help them grow up to be the dog you want them to be. Moreover, you will be providing them with life-skills and the emotional resilience necessary for them to lead a happy and contented life.

For any help with behaviour  problems please contact me.

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