border collie puppy litter socialising

How to socialise your puppy

By BBC Maestro

Learning to socialise is an important stage in your puppy’s development. During this stage, dogs learn key life skills to help them cope with the world around them.

Most new dog owners understand just how important it is to socialise their new arrival with other humans and animals. When done correctly, puppy socialisation will build positive associations for your new pet and set a solid foundation of confidence for the rest of their life.

Wondering how to socialise your puppy? Read on for top tips and tricks, inspired by world-class dog trainer Steve Mann’s BBC Maestro dog training course.

puppy learning to lie down

Why is puppy socialisation important?

Socialisation is an important part of your puppy’s development. It will help them learn how to interact with the world around them, and the people and animals that inhabit it. 

“Good socialisation has the biggest effect on how a puppy is going to mature into the most confident, optimistic and robust dog that they can possibly be.”

During the socialisation stage, puppies will learn who is in their social group – who they can expect to mix with and how they can interact with them. A well-socialised puppy is less likely to react with fear and aggression to new people or experiences later in life. In other words, good socialisation is the key to creating a calm, confident family pet.

dog and cat cuddling

At what age can puppies socialise with other dogs?

If you’re curious about when to socialise a puppy, dog trainer Steve Mann recommends between the ages of 14 and 16 weeks old. During this window of time your puppy will be most ready to socialise and absorb their learnings, therefore it is the ideal time to expose your new dog to new sights, sounds, people and places.

However, Steve Mann also points out, is that socialisation is always a work in progress. As your dog grows, you still want to help them develop confidence in experiencing new things. This may be particularly important if you have adopted a rescue dog that missed that initial important stage of socialisation as a puppy. Remember to take things slow and not push your dog into situations that make it uncomfortable.

puppies playing

How to socialise your puppy

Puppy socialisation involves exposure to as many different people, places and animals as possible. Socialise them in all conditions – day or night, sun or rain – the more varied the better. The aim of every interaction is to create positive associations with the people and places they encounter. Steve Mann emphasises the importance of making sure your puppy feels safe and secure. Watch their reactions, take things at their pace and remove them from a situation if they are becoming overwhelmed or fearful.

It’s important to remember that letting your puppy run up to other dogs in the park is not appropriate socialisation. You don’t know how that dog may respond and there is a high risk this could backfire, if the dog responds negatively your puppy could become reactive and fearful for the rest of their life. 

Instead, socialise your puppy in a controlled environment. Organised puppy socialisation classes are the ideal way to do this. Or if you have friends with calm, puppy-friendly dogs then ask to join them on a walk.

As well as socialising your puppy with other dogs, you’ll want to get them used to a variety of people and places too. Take them to the vets and groomers and give those who work there treats to ply them with.

Expose your puppy to a wide variety of people too, including people:

  • with walking sticks
  • wearing glasses
  • wearing hats
  • of all ages – young children right up to elderly people
  • of different ethnicities
  • tall and short people
  • fat and thin people

Make your own list of all the different people and places you plan to expose your puppy to. You’ll be surprised how different the world looks when you think of it from the perspective of your new pup!

Take it slow

Remember that puppy socialisation is all about building positive associations. Not every dog is friendly, so letting your tiny ball of fluff bound up to a strange dog can be a recipe for disaster. It’s essential you socialise your puppy in a way that is controlled, safe and respectful of other dog owners.

Puppy socialisation is where you create the building blocks of a well-rounded pup that greets new people and places with a confident wag of the tail. Getting it right in the early stages can pay off big time in the long term.

Want to know more about puppy socialisation? Try Steve Mann’s dog training course – it’s perfect for first-time dog owners.

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