Help and advice on puppy socialisation
How do dogs choose their favourite person?
Everybody wants to be the new furry friend’s favourite! In short, it’s all about socialisation, attention, positive association, and personality. But let’s get into the nitty-gritty details so that you can become your dog’s favourite person. Sometimes, a dog’s favourite person is not always their primary caregiver. It could be their dog walker, their dog sitter, or even the neighbour who always has a treat in their pocket. So how do dogs choose their favourite person? And is it possible to change their minds?
Of course, every puppy is different, but some generalisations apply. Read on to learn all about how dogs choose their preferred people.
Many dogs bond hardest to whoever cares for them during their key socialisation period, which occurs between birth and six months. At this age, puppies’ brains are incredibly receptive, and their early social experiences influence them for the rest of their lives. That’s why it’s so important to ensure your puppy has positive interactions with a wide range of people, places, and things.
For example, dogs who aren’t exposed to people wearing hats may become afraid of hats later in life. If your dog was already an adult when you adopted them, don’t worry. it’s not too late to become their favourite. While early experiences are important, continued socialisation throughout their life matters a lot!
Attention (and affection) increases the bond
Now, we already know that some dogs may prefer someone who isn’t their primary caregiver, but most dogs tend to bond with the person who gives them the most attention. For example, in a family with two parents and two kids, the dog may favour the parent who fills their bowl every morning and takes them for a walk every evening.
In addition, physical affection solidifies the bond between dog and person. If a person is stand-offish towards a dog, the dog will be stand-offish towards them. But if you give your dog plenty of pats, grooming sessions, massages, and love, they are likely to seek out more.
Positive association is key
Beyond the attention of their favourite people, dogs play favourites depending on associations. In other words, when a person is the source of good stuff, the dog forms a bond.
When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Of course, a dog is going to love the person who always plays tug of war or gives them loads of their favourite beef liver treats. They also know that the person who feeds them most often is a pretty important player in their lives!
On the other hand, that’s also why dogs often react poorly to people with whom they have bad associations. Positive associations lead to positive dog-human relationships. You can use positive association to help in training and socialising your dog.
For example, whenever somebody new comes to your house, have them give your dog treats. This establishes an immediate positive association (new person = tasty treats) that helps ease the introduction.
Human personality and dog breed play a part
Have you ever met a dog that looks and behaves a lot like their person? The saying “like attracts like” applies to dogs and people, too. Dogs often choose a favourite person who matches their own energy level and personality.
If you have the feeling that you’re not your dog’s favourite person, don’t despair. You can improve and increase the bond between you. The easiest (and most fun) way is to spend at least 30 minutes of focused, one-on-one time together each day. This doesn’t include walks, garden time, or watching TV together. Your bonding time should be active and focused.
Here are a few bonding activities to engage in with your dog:
- Play fetch, tug, or hide and seek.
- Have a training session. Working on new skills, or reinforcing old ones, is a great way to bond!
- Try a sport like agility where you and your dog can work together as a team.
- Food (in healthy, appropriate quantities) is love. Aim for wholesome protein sources with limited fillers and try some homemade meals for your dog. Make mealtime a bonding activity by integrating eye contact.
- Give your dog a grooming session or massage.
Bonding occurs naturally between dogs and the people who treat them well. Take good care of your dog, socialise them, give him positive experiences, and respect his unique personality. They’ll reward you with a lifetime of love.
One thing about puppies is that they are little sponges! They soak up the world around them, and when they feel safe, they are curious and engaged with life.
We all know that socialising puppies – the process of getting them accustomed to the world around them – is critical to a puppy’s comfort and happiness later in life.
Socialisation can help puppies:
Socialising is more than just getting your puppy out and about and having him meet lots of people and animals. The way a puppy is socialised is just as important. It is the quality of the exposure that counts (not the quantity!). Your pup doesn’t need to have prolonged or close contact with new things or people. He just needs to have easy, happy experiences. The more relaxed your pup is, the better.
Keep socialisation fun for your puppy
Help your pup be relaxed and calm. For a younger puppy, hold him in your arms if that is calming. Talk to him in soft and gentle tones. Give him treats. Keep him a little bit away from things so he can watch from a comfortable distance until he is ready to explore. Make sure all exposures and introductions happen on puppy time – that is, when your pup wants to engage.
How do you know if your puppy wants to explore something new, meet a new person, or play with another puppy? Just watch your puppy and you will see. If he is curious and moving towards the person, animal, or thing, he may be ready to engage.
If your puppy is cautious, wait. Let him watch from a distance. Puppies don’t have to interact with everything and everyone during socialisation. Just being in the world, or hearing noises, or seeing people or animals can help them become familiar.
If your puppy is overexcited to the point of being frenetic, he may also be lacking confidence or even a little scared. Try to help him build confidence by keeping greetings brief, giving your pup treats, or changing how people or other animals are interacting. For example, if your pup is a little too excited greeting people, have people sit down and let your pup go up to them. Or try moving your pup away and let him watch until he shows more confidence.
What if your pup tucks her tail, tries to move away, or perhaps barks or cries? Please, please, please move your puppy away from whatever scares her. This is critical. Making a puppy stay near something or someone that scares her has the potential to backfire and create real and lasting fear. It is not a good idea to throw a pup into the deep end, metaphorically speaking. Better to move your pup away, let her experience the scary stimulus from a distance, and give her some chicken or other tasty treats. Wait for her to be ready to explore comfortably.
Puppies do go through fear periods – developmental phases when the world is just a little more overwhelming. If your pup seems suddenly scared of more things than he was previously, take a step back from socialisation and provide him with comfort, fun things to do, and gentle experiences. Fear periods often pass in one to two weeks.
Adolescence and beyond
Socialisation is a process that starts as soon as a pup is born, and most experts now believe that the first 12 to 16 weeks are the most important. Does that mean that socialisation is done when your pup hits 12 weeks? On the contrary, it is very important to continue with positive social experiences, exposure to new things, and exploration of the world through your pup’s adolescence and into adulthood.
If you stop exposing your puppy to new experiences after puppy class, your pup may gradually become less confident in the world and new behaviour problems may develop. Ongoing, positive experiences with people, dogs, places, and new things can help your good early socialisation stick for life.
What you should expose your puppy to
Many people assume socialisation is simply about getting your dog around lots of people to be petted and plenty of dogs to play with. This can be a piece of the socialisation package, but remember that the goal of socialisation is to get your puppy accustomed to and comfortable with the world around him.
Of course, this is only a partial list; there’s no way to expose your puppy to all of these things. Instead, try to accomplish a few from each category. Learning that new and different things are good can help reduce the chance that your puppy will get scared or spooked later in life.
Also, keep in mind that your puppy does not need to be socially intimate with every person or dog he comes into contact with. Exposure alone is important. Puppies also need to learn to be around people, animals and things that they do not get to interact with too.
Puppy socialisation and vaccines
It’s now very clear that early socialisation – Even before puppies have their full set of vaccinations – is very important for the long-term well-being of the puppy. Equally important however is keeping your puppy safe from such as parvovirus and distemper. Following these guidelines can help you do both.
- Work closely with your vet to make sure your puppy is on an appropriate vaccine schedule. Wait until seven days after your puppy’s first set of vaccines to explore the world.
- Avoid places where dogs of unknown vaccine history might have been such as woods, beaches and parks.
- Allow your puppy to socialise and play with other puppies who are also following a vaccine schedule. Your pup may also enjoy playing with puppy-friendly adult dogs who are healthy and vaccinated.
- Take your puppy to your vet right away if he appears to feel unwell.
Ways to Safely Socialise Before Your Puppy is Fully Vaccinated
Puppies are vaccinated several times, several weeks apart, until they are old enough to ensure that their bodies have had ample opportunity to develop immunity to the diseases for which they have been vaccinated. Socialise him safely with the following methods:
- Invite friends to your home. Children, adults, men, women, the Parcel Force delivery driver, the gardeners – have your puppy see and experience these people in and around your home and property.
- Take your puppy to a friend’s house. Just going into a new environment will offer your puppy lots of new experiences.
- Invite your friends’ healthy, vaccinated, and puppy-friendly dogs over for a play day. Playing with other dogs is important for your puppies’ social development and to learn not to bite hard in play.
- Take your puppy on a walk in a sling. Just don’t allow him to walk places where there might be faeces or urine from other animals.
- Take a blanket to the park. Let your puppy watch the world go by on the safety of the blanket.
- Take your puppy for car rides. Help him get used to the motion on short rides to the shop or even just around the block.
- Stop by your vet’s office and get your puppy weighed. Take along plenty of treats to make it a great experience.
- Visit businesses that welcome dogs or an outside café. Carry your puppy in – or in the case of a cafe, set him up on a mat and let him take in the sights and smells.
- Consider going to a puppy class. A well-run puppy class will help you socialise your puppy to things outside of your home while your puppy is also getting some foundation training (make sure disinfectants are used to clean waste in your puppy class, and that it’s verified that other puppies in the class have been vaccinated).
What socialisation can and cannot do for your puppy
Just like you, each puppy has his or her own genetic makeup. Genes influence everything from how tall a puppy will be to how he will react to the world around him. Sociability, startle responses, fearfulness, and excitability may all be part of a genetic package.
Socialisation cannot change genetics. But the current belief is that the expression of those genetics may have some flexibility and this is where socialisation can help. Socialisation can help your puppy be as comfortable, confident, and happy as possible.
In addition, socialisation generally is not enough to help a puppy or dog overcome a traumatic event. Careful socialisation can help when it is done along with behaviour modification, training, and/or medical intervention.
Socialisation is showing your dog the world he will live in. It is teaching him that his world will be safe. It is helping your puppy understand that you will always be on his side and that you are a trustworthy partner. Know who your puppy is and what his or her specific needs are. Socialising carefully and with those needs in mind will help your pup become the best he can be. And you can both have fun doing it!