We all know socialisation is really important for our puppy. But how on earth do you do this safely if your puppy hasn’t been fully vaccinated yet?
Even before your puppy has had their vaccinations, it’s important to carefully expose them to things in their environment. This helps to prevent future behaviour problems, as dogs that were poorly socialised as puppies can be difficult to live with. They can struggle to cope with situations that are out of the ordinary. Well socialised puppies grow into dogs that are adaptable and enjoy new places, people, animals and experiences. That means you can enjoy things like having visitors to your home, going on a trip with your dog, and exercising your dog at the park.
Just because your puppy can’t walk on the ground in public places, it doesn’t mean they can’t experience new sights, smells and sounds out and about. You just need to get creative and find ways to safely expose them to new locations.
Make use of your car – either moving or parked up, your car is perfect. Sit inside with your puppy and watch the world go by, or pop open the boot, and perch yourself there. Just reward all calm behaviours. Go to your local supermarket or garden centre car park – these are great places to people watch and watch slow moving vehicles.
Use a baby sling, a pet carrier, or even a specially designed bag (just avoid the ones that restrict your dog’s movement by forcing them into positions they can’t move around at all in) – so you can carry your puppy around and explore the world together. You could just carry your puppy in your arms … but depending on the length of time, or breed, they can get heavy.
Wheel them around – a specially designed pet pram/buggy can be great for enabling your puppy to experience the world while still being safe and secure – which can only help with confidence.
The way in which you socialise your puppy is just as important as what you expose your puppy to.
It’s very important that you expand your puppy’s experiences carefully and thoughtfully, making sure these experiences are viewed by your puppy as positive. Your puppy doesn’t need to have prolonged or close contact with new things or people. It’s perfectly acceptable for you to say “no thanks” to people coming up to pat your puppy on the head, even if they ask nicely. Your puppy needs to have confidence in you, knowing you’ll keep them safe.
They just need to have calm, relaxed and happy experiences. The more relaxed your puppy is, the better. Take everything at your puppy’s pace …. exposures and introductions should only happen when your puppy wants to engage – don’t force things.
Rather than ticking off a million things on a socialisation checklist … because you’ll only feel bad when you don’t achieve them all! … think about the things your puppy will see every week as an adult, and visit those places, see those people, or experience those things now. Will you be going away in a caravan? Sleeping in a tent? Will you be walking in the countryside with strange swinging gates? You get the picture!
To help your puppy to form positive associations with new encounters, talk to them in soft and gentle tones, use gentle verbal praise as they approach anything new, offer a tasty piece of food whenever possible (making sure not to use the food to entice them to something potentially scary). If your dog will not eat the food, this may be an indication that they are uncomfortable with their surroundings.
Let your puppy watch things from a comfortable distance until they are ready to explore and move forward. If you notice stress signals then simply move to create some distance, or maybe it’s time to call it a day and go home. Discovering new things should be fun for your puppy. Common stress signals include things like ears pulled tightly back, tucked tail, raised hackles, lip-licking, exaggerated or repetitive yawning, showing the whites of their eyes, avoiding eye contact or looking away.
Take care not to overwhelm your puppy with too many experiences, and those you do have, make them short and sweet …. and happy ones!