One of the first things you are told when you get a new puppy is that you have to make sure you socialise the pup.
Is it a case of letting your puppy play with everyone and every dog they meet?
Attending puppy parties with lots of different puppies where they can all run and play together?
How about going to the school gate to meet as many children as they can?
What if I told you that I wouldn’t recommend any of these things….
Socialisation means getting your puppy used to different things in the environment, teaching them to interact with other animals and people appropriately. Helping build their confidence towards other things in the environment including noises, smells, locations and so on. A puppy isn’t born knowing these things and if we want to help create calm, confident all round good dogs then we need to get these things right.
So how do you do this? And why not do the above?
Let’s look at puppy parties
Now do not get me wrong, some are set up fantastically. However many are run as literally a free for all with all the pups off lead. You will see the tarzan pups in the hall running around and bowling all the others over, you will see the ones that want to play but aren’t quite sure if they want to play with so many at once. You will also see the ones who spend the whole time cowered underneath a chair or behind mum or dad because they are too scared of the environment let alone greeting all these puppies.
Please take note and understand this is not socialisation and in fact this could have the opposite effect on your pup where you end up with a fearful dog or a dog that wants to play with every dog they meet resulting in you never being able to let them off lead.
When looking for puppy classes or parties do your research. Is the person running them an experienced trainer or qualified. Sadly the industry is unregulated and Bob down the road who has never even owned a dog in his life can set one up. You owe it to yourself and your pup to get it right. Ask about class numbers, ask to go and view one of the sessions without your pup so you can get to see what happens, ask for references. If all the pups are off lead then I would avoid it like the plague.
A person who runs them is an actual dog trainer and not someone who sees it as an easy way to make money. Many people think puppies are the easy class to run so they will just set them up. However this is so wrong. Your puppies are going through critical learning periods. They are coming into our world and need to have positive experiences in every environment they go. They need guidance and they rely on you to do just that. It is your responsibility to find this for them. Do your research, ask lots of questions, ask for references, ask to see qualifications. Just because it is cute to see puppies all running around together it does not mean this is what they need.
Small class size
Class numbers are kept small. Having small numbers not only allows the trainer to be able to offer more in terms of individual attention and be able to pick things up from what your puppies are communicating, but small numbers allow you more room to move around. Having plenty of space will help in terms of your puppy feeling more confident as you can keep plenty of distance. I run my classes with a max of 6 pups in an outside environment.
This can be anything that allows your puppies to use their senses. Things they can explore such as different textures to walk on, ball pools to sniff in finding hidden treats, tunnels, snuffle mats, licki mats, basically anything that will allow your puppy to explore.
Why is this important you may be thinking? Because it not only allows you to help build your puppy’s confidence around new environments, objects in the environment etc but also allows you to have your puppy around other pups whilst building positive associations. Sniffing itself releases ‘feel good’ hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. You will be helping your pup remain calm whilst teaching them they can do other alternative behaviours whilst in the presence of other pups.
No free for all playing.
Personally I prefer puppies to be around adult dogs that are all round sound dogs. This is because each puppy is still learning. You have a mix of personalities in each group. Some like rough and tumble, some like to keep themselves to themselves, some like to be able to sit back and check things out before interacting and others find the whole experience terrifying. Imagine having all these different types of pups off lead together. Do you think your pup will come away from that session happy or had all positive experiences? I very much doubt it.
Put it this way during my puppy classes all pups remain on lead throughout. If they are off lead, it is at least 3 weeks into the course after the pups have spent time building positive experiences with each other. After they have learnt alternative behaviours to do around each other, have learnt to focus on their owners and I have gotten to know them all. When they do have off lead play it is with a pup that is suitable for them and it is one on one.
The time is limited and we work on the puppy consent test which allows your puppy to make their own choice if they want to interact with the other pup. Nothing is forced. Going back to the adult dog. Puppies play with their mouths, they have sharp teeth, they struggle with controlling their arousal levels, they squeal, they bowl each other over not knowing when to stop and the list goes on.
A well socialised dog will be able to give clear communication signals via body language and vocal sounds. They will ignore the puppy, they will play appropriately, your puppy will learn so much from them. However that being said you need to find the right adult dog. Many adult dogs do not like puppies due to their inappropriate behaviour and the last thing you want is your puppy to be attacked by a dog.
Basic training practice
Practicing basic obedience such as recall, loose lead walking, settles, as well as focus exercises with you will help teach your pup alternative behaviours to do around each other. Just because there are other pups around doesn’t mean they have to play with them to be socialised. When out in the big world it is not possible for them to say hello to every dog they see, so teaching them to ignore other dogs is very important.
This covers the foundations of puppy socialisation around other pups however socialisation is a massive thing.
For more information on puppy socialisation and classes in the Plymouth, Devon ares contact Beckies Walkie, Training & Behaviour on:
About The Author
Becky Mitchell is a professional animal carer with over ten years experience within the industry. During this time, she has worked in wildlife parks, animal rescue centres and veterinary clinics as well as working as a freelance dog behavioural consultant.
In addition to her professional experience she has provided a home to numerous animals including; cats, dogs, rabbits, lizards, chickens and ferrets. Many of these being rescue animals who came with behavioural problems or specialist dietary and medical needs. Becky currently shares her home with her 7 dogs and 4 cats.