Puppy Socialisation and Habituation
Dogs are social creatures and it’s vital that they learn appropriate social behaviour and communication.
There are two critical windows in a puppies development – The critical period of Socialisation and Habituation.
The most important time for a dog to be socialised is from approximately 2-16 weeks. Weeks 2 -8 are with mum and littermates, weeks 8 + are with you. Pups need to be socialised with all other animals in which you expect them to co-habit, so family members, friends, dogs, cats other pets etc. As soon as your puppy is clear of their vaccination programme it’s vital that you spend the next few weeks mixing with friends dogs, dogs on a walk and walking them past farm animals. Try to expose them to a confident cat in these early weeks as otherwise your dog will always love the thrill and chase of a cat later in life!
The critical period of Habituation occurs when you bring pup home up until approximately 16 weeks. This is one of the most critical periods in a puppies development when it is vital that they have positive experiences with as many things as possible. Puppies need to be comfortable with all the things that they will encounter as part of your family. Noise often disturbs dogs and therefore you must acclimatise your puppy to our noisy human lifestyles. Consider items such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines, drills, lawnmowers and everything else around the house and garden that could cause alarm. Good associations will often overcome any feelings of fear that your puppy initially displays. Dogs will follow your lead, if you are calm this will reassure him, and remember, if you constantly watch them for a reaction you are practically inviting one!
The general rule is to ignore nervous behaviour and reward calm behaviour as positive reinforcement is a far greater learning tool than punishment. Rewards can be a treat, a
stroke, or a soft vocal praise. Slowly expose your puppy to new experiences using a step by step approach. For example, show the puppy the vacuum cleaner and give him a treat. Push the cleaner round and if he is calm drop treats on the floor for him. Without staring at him switch the cleaner on but keep it still, at the same time drop treats on the floor for him. If he becomes overly anxious turn the cleaner off and as he becomes calm again drop more treats. You can only do this exercise at your puppy’s pace, not your own. If you push the puppy too quickly you are likely to frighten him.
Using the treats, you are building good associations with situations your puppy could potentially be fearful of. Be careful not to reward nervous behaviour, it is natural for us to try to soothe a dog that is displaying fear. However, we would be inadvertently teaching him that fear is the correct response and this is far from what we want to achieve! This exercise can be used to acclimatise your new puppy to most things in your environment. If you still are still encountering problems then seek professional advice. Similar desensitisation techniques can be used for dogs of any age displaying anxiety. It is a myth that old dogs can’t be taught new tricks!!!
As your puppy is able to go out, traffic can often be a worry for them. Follow the general rule of ignoring nervous behaviour and rewarding calmness. Don’t stare at the ‘offending’ object as your puppy will follow your gaze, which will draw more attention to it. Our mantra is to train your way out of trouble, so if your puppy still displays anxiety at traffic after a few walks then start to guide your puppy using training such as heelwork or a look at me when a large vehicle passes.
Let them greet other animals and people along your walk and take them out in the car when you’re visiting friends. If you treat everything as inanimate as a lamppost or a bush your dog should remain as calm as you are!
Puppy classes are a wonderful idea to assist socialisation as long as they are well run. Puppies need fun playtime often followed by plenty of sleep!
Find out about Best Behaviour School for Dogs puppy classes in Sevenoaks.