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Make your puppy a model pupil 

Experiences during the first year of a dog’s life make all the difference to future temperament and character.

Taking the time to socialise your puppy can result in a friendly adult dog that enjoys the company of people, can be taken anywhere and lives life to the full.

Puppies need to learn how to relate to people and other animals. It means meeting and having pleasant encounters with as many other adults, children, dogs (puppies and adults) and other animals as possible. It also involves becoming used to a wide range of events, environments and situations.

When you take on a puppy, you are taking on the responsibility to ensure your dog grows up to be emotionally well-adjusted. Puppies that are not socialised may grow up to be fearful and fearful dogs may bite. Dogs not used to different environments and situations spend their lives being frightened when taken to unfamiliar places.

Well-socialised puppies grow up to be friendly and happy in the company of people and other animals and make successful pets. Dogs taken out regularly as puppies can take different situations in their stride and enjoy going anywhere with their owners.

The sooner the better

The younger the puppy, the easier it will be to socialise. This is because, as puppies get older, they become more cautious when faced with new experiences. The early weeks are particularly important because a puppy will approach anything or anybody willingly and without fear.

By the time your dog reaches about 12 weeks of age, anything not yet encountered is approached with caution and trepidation. Therefore it is vital that, between three and 12 weeks of age, a puppy meets a wide variety of people, situations and other animals. If not, your dog will be anxious and fearful of them. How much socialisation is done at this early age will determine how confident your puppy is around people and other dogs later in life.

Puppies usually go to new homes from the age of about six to eight weeks. This means the new owners should make a real effort to socialise the new puppy during their early time together. Socialisation after this is also necessary to build on this foundation or to make up for lost time. This is particularly important if the puppy has been unwell or was not socialised adequately while still with the litter.

Well-socialised puppies up to the age of 12 weeks can become fearful again if kept in isolation. If owners continue to make an effort until the puppy is at least one year old, they will end up with an adult dog that is friendly and can be taken anywhere.

It’s easy!

All you have to do is take your puppy out and about as much as possible as soon as they have settled in, taking care not to overwhelm the pet and to keep your dog safe from infectious diseases.

Begin slowly at first, gradually increasing the number of encounters and the time spent socialising as the puppy becomes older and more able to cope.

As it is particularly necessary for pet dogs to enjoy the company of humans, it is especially important that your dog meets a lot of them, both adults and children. Take your puppy to them and invite them round to your house. It will be easier to do this if you take your puppy everywhere with you once they are able to cope with this amount of exposure. You must make the effort to socialise while your puppy is still young enough to reap the maximum benefit. Ensuring your puppy grows up to be friendly and outgoing is not difficult, but it does require a few hours, in several small sessions every day, for the first year of life.

Think puppy

All encounters should be pleasant, so keep your puppy happy by giving strangers small titbits to feed, or a favourite toy to pass to your dog to play with. If your puppy is shy, ask strangers not to stare, tower over your dog, or hug the animal as this may be seen as threatening.

Observe your puppy constantly for signs of anxiety or being overwhelmed and, if things get too much, remove your dog from the situation or give your dog more space and freedom to approach. Remember young puppies tire easily, so keep encounters short with enough time in-between for resting. During all encounters, protect your puppy from bad experiences. Young puppies are inexperienced and get themselves into trouble easily. Think ahead and try to prevent any unpleasant events from occurring. Try to engineer encounters that will be successful and rewarding – if all early life is pleasant and positive, the puppy will grow up to feel safe and confident enough to deal with whatever life may have in store.

Never pick up your puppy and pass them to someone or drag your puppy towards them. Dogs should always be able to make an approach in their own time and retreat if they want to.

A friendly, happy dog with few behaviour problems is likely to have a longer, more successful life than a fearful, aggressive and difficult one

An anxious puppy will try to look smaller, avoid eye contact, hold the tail low, put ears back and keep away

A happy, relaxed puppy will stand up straight with tail wagging and be keen to investigate.

Article courtesy of the RSPCA.

To be continued in our next edition