Socialisation and Habituation
Socialisation – getting your puppy used to the living part of the environment (humans, dogs, other animals etc)
Habituation – getting your puppy used to the non-living part of the environment (washing machines, vacuum cleaners, bags, cycles, cars etc)
This article refers to both socialisation and habituation as simply ‘socialisation’.
One of the most important things you can do for your puppy is to help it socialise. When a puppy is young, new experiences are approached without fear, but as they grow, puppies become increasingly fearful of new encounters and by just 16 weeks of age, the window of opportunity closes as fear starts to outweigh their keenness to approach.
A lack of socialisation during a puppy’s early development can lead to them being scared of unfamiliar people or other dogs. Socialisation with other dogs, children and adults is, therefore, extremely important for your puppy’s happiness as it will help your puppy to stay calm and relaxed, even in challenging situations. In your puppy’s early months, make time for your puppy to experience as many good experiences as possible, as long lasting impressions are formed at this age and their experiences will be remembered throughout their life, whether they are good or bad ones.
A good breeder will already have started the socialisation process by making sure that the puppies are well handled and introduced to people where possible and safe.
Your socialisation role starts from the day you bring your puppy home. However, you have to be careful about how you socialise your puppy at this early stage as you are restricted somewhat by their vaccination programme. The usual age for vaccinations to be given are 8 and 12 weeks (sometimes 16 weeks too) and until the vaccinations have taken effect, your puppy will be at risk of contracting diseases. You can overcome this socialisation vs vaccination conflict by making sure that your puppy meets lots of new people at your home or taking your puppy to safe places, but taking reasonable precautions not to expose him to disease. Your puppy may not be able to go on the ground outside until fully vaccinated, but unless he is big and heavy, you can carry him so that he experiences the world in a safe way.
You need to make each new encounter a happy, positive one. Don’t overwhelm your puppy – keep encounters brief and then build on them as he starts to experience more things.
Socialisation should cover a number of things, some obvious, some not so. Some examples of what you can socialise your puppy to is given below (but this is by no means an exhaustive list). Take care not to overwhelm your puppy or do too much too quickly, but remember, the socialisation window of opportunity starts to close after 16 weeks of age.
- of all shapes and sizes, ages, personalities
- those in uniform and high visibility clothing
- those wearing hats and glasses
- those wearing motorbike helmets
· Other animals
- Adult dogs
- Livestock and horses
- Groomers (if appropriate)
- Other people’s houses (friends and family)
- Outside a school and children’s play area
- Parks and countryside
- Different floor types (slippery, carpeted etc)
- Veterinary surgery
A lack of socialisation could mean the difference between a well-adjusted, friendly adult dog or a shy, fearful one.
My Puppy School classes are also a great way to help socialise your puppy during their important socialisation period. If you would like more information on my classes, please click here.