Animal behaviour experts agree that one of the most important aspects of responsible pet ownership is socialising your dog from an early age. Socialising is simply a term for activities that introduce your puppy to a variety of experiences in a positive and safe environment so they learn how to be a confident and friendly, well-behaved member of society.
Between three to twelve weeks of age is a critical stage in every dog’s life – it’s the prime socialisation period. During this time, the experiences encountered by a puppy play an important part in shaping their behaviour as an adult dog. Puppies exposed to positive experiences with a wide range of people, places and things during this time grow up to be relaxed and confi dent dogs. Puppies that are isolated or have negative experiences during socialisation are much more likely to react in a fearful or aggressive way to new situations as an adult. Although continuing socialisation is important, it is never as influential or effective as this early socialisation.
Owners may worry that they are putting their puppy at risk by starting socialisation before the pup’s vaccination program has been completed; however, it’s worth remembering that far more dogs are surrendered or put to sleep due to behavioural problems than the numbersthat contract fatal viral diseases. Ideally, puppies should be fully vaccinated before they interact fully with other dogs or are walked in areas where other dogs toilet; however, once their vaccination program has started, it’s possible to introduce your puppy to others of a similar age that have also commenced a vaccination program. Older vaccinated dogs, especially ones with a quiet temperament, can also be introduced to your puppy under supervision. Your veterinarian can provide you with advice.
Puppy socialisation classes are a great way to get started with a new puppy. They help increase owners’ knowledge of puppy care and preliminary training, and also provide an opportunity for puppies to socialise with other puppies in a supervised environment. The 2006 National People and Pets Survey indicated that almost 20% of owners had taken their puppy to puppy socialisation classes. These classes are relatively new in Australia so it’s encouraging to see their increasing popularity. Your veterinarian can advise you on puppy socialisation and classes in your area.