The first step on the path to becoming a wonderful pet is to ensure your new puppy receives proper socialisation at a young age.
Socialisation is the developing of relationships with other animals and people in the puppy’s environment. It occurs in pups up to 12 weeks of age, and is critical in the development of the puppy’s behaviour and therefore your dog’s eventual personality. Dogs that receive insufficient exposure to people, other animals and new environments during this time may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity and aggression.
Obtaining the right puppy
A puppy needs interaction with its mother and littermates at a young age, so the best age to obtain a pup is around 8 weeks of age. Obtaining your puppy from a reputable breeder should mean that it has already had early handling, which means that they tend to be more confident, social, exploratory, faster maturing and better able to handle stress as they develop.
A puppy’s behaviour is also dependent on its breeding – some breeds are more outgoing than others, and behavioural traits are also inherited from its parents. This is why observing the puppy’s parents interacting with their owners, and with you as strangers, can help you to decide if you want to choose your puppy from the litter in question. Then the individual puppies in a litter will all have different personalities – choose one that is sociable, affectionate, and playful, avoiding overly shy or aggressive puppies.
Introducing your puppy to new experiences
Once your puppy is in its new home, you can continue the socialisation process by introducing him or her to as many new people, sounds, situations, and experiences as possible in a positive way. If the puppy is initially fearful or shy in a situation, let it retreat to somewhere that it feels safe, do not force it to confront the situation and do not attempt to comfort them as this will reinforce the behaviour, for example to behave fearfully when exposed to car noise.
Experiences to expose your puppy to include people of all ages, sizes, shapes and appearance (esepcially men and children), to other dogs, to cats, and other animals, to noises – car and train noises, fireworks, thunderstorms, even the vacuum-cleaner. To facilitate this process, provide a reward such as a food treat when then puppy is exposed to a new stimulus, so that it associates the experience with a reward. Otherwise, positive reinforcement in the form of a pat or praise is effective.
Puppy parties/Puppy Preschool
There is a compromise with opening up the world to puppies, in that they will not yet be fully covered by vaccination. However, the benefits of socialisation outweigh the health risks, and there are low risk environments such as friends’ houses with vaccinated dogs, and puppy parties. Puppy parties are highly recommended to help teach basic commands, to socialise with other puppies and their owners outside of their familiar home, and to learn some basic health points.
Your local veterinarian will provide you with details of their own puppy pre-school courses. They usually consist of 3 or 4 sessions, starting from 8 weeeks of age untl 14-16 weeks of age, including controlled puppy play time, reward-based training techniques, toilet training, good manners, plus advice on health and nutrition. You can be very proud when your puppy obtains his graduation certificate!