Do you have a new puppy or are you thinking about getting one? Just like children, the experiences a puppy has in its early life can have a dramatic impact on how they respond to experiences in adulthood. A poorly socialised puppy is far more prone to developing behavioural issues, including aggression with other dogs, aggression towards humans and separation anxiety. Once these behaviours have developed they can be very difficult to fix, so prevention is best.
The early “socialisation period”
During the first 3 months of a puppy’s life they undergo massive brain development where they learn from experience what is considered normal or safe. New experiences that occur in adult hood are far more likely to result in fear or anxiety, which is probably the most common underlying cause of aggression in dogs.
How to socialise your puppy
Getting as much social interaction as possible during these first few months is critical in order to end up with a confident, well-adjusted dog. This includes:
- Being handled by a range of different people e.g. children, men and women, people with beards, people with glasses etc. This may seem strange but we certainly come across dogs that are nervous of these things.
- Get them used to being touched and examined. Touching in their ears, touching their paws, putting your hands in and around their mouths, and handling them all over are all important. It certainly makes things like worming your dog or checking a sore foot far less stressful!
- Interacting with other puppies as well as adult dogs. Puppy preschool is a fantastic way of socialising with other pups in a positive environment. When interacting with adult dogs, ideally they should be vaccinated to avoid passing on infections to pups that are not fully immune yet.
- Visiting the vet clinic to experience the smells and action without necessarily experiencing any negatives such as getting injections! Again puppy preschool is a great way to do this.
- Travelling in vehicles, as this is a common source of stress.
There are special collars available which use a pheromone (kind of like a smell that is only detectable to dogs) that is emitted by the mother during the first few weeks of the pup’s life. It has a calming effect on dogs (even adults) and has been shown to have a dramatic effect on socialisation if used during those first few months, so is a great thing to consider when introducing a new puppy to the household.
The Importance of Consistency
A last note on puppy training – it is important to be consistent! An example where inconsistency can lead to problems is with pups picking up items such as a pair of socks. When they are small and cute and pick up a shoe or a pair of socks it is easy to laugh and think they are cute – the pup enjoys the attention it gets and thinks of it as a positive experience. When the pup gets bigger it may pick up a pair of socks and run away to play with them but get told off. This causes mixed messages, and means that next time it picks up a pair of socks it will become defensive when someone comes near them with them – this can lead to unwanted aggression.