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Puppy socialisation and habituation

The experiences that your puppy has whilst they are young will stay with them for the rest of their life. That’s why it’s so important that they are introduced to both every day and novel situations in a safe and managed way.

When we’re talking about experiences, there are two main types – socialisation and habituation. We outline what each type means and our top tips for making sure your puppy has great experiences.

Get them off to a great start.

PitPat on a collar

See what they’ve been up to today with a PitPat dog activity monitor.

Socialisation

Socialisation refers to the range of experiences your puppy will have with other dogs and people. Whilst those first introductions are amongst the most important, socialisation is an ongoing process that will continue throughout your dog’s life, and especially in their first year.

Set the scene

The place you choose for your puppy’s first interaction with other dogs is a key factor in making sure their experience is positive. 

  • Plenty of open space
  • Secure fencing
  • Away from heavy traffic
  • Away from livestock
  • Avoid dog parks or other places dog owners congregate with off lead dogs
  • Remove any toys, balls, or food from the area to prevent disputes

Introducing the dogs

When choosing dogs to introduce yours to, start with dogs of a similar size and age, which will be far less intimidating for your puppy. Eventually you’ll want to make sure they get to meet a range of dogs, young and old, big and small. 

Before making introductions, make sure your puppy has burned off excess energy with a good play or training session. This will help them to be calmer around the other dogs, which will make for a more manageable interaction.

When you’re ready to introduce the dogs, first of all sit a short distance away with your puppy. Once they are calm, move closer in. You may want to keep both your puppy and the other dog on leads at this time. If you do, avoid letting the leads get tangled and watch their body language closely. 

If the dogs are getting on well, you may wish to let them off lead. Play is a great signal that they are comfortable, but don’t be afraid to intervene if it starts to look a little too rough. Introduce dogs one at a time rather than in a big group and keep sessions short and fun. 

Watch their body language

The key to avoiding any negative experiences with socialisation is to watch your puppy’s body language closely and react to what they are communicating to you. Signs that your puppy is having a good interaction include:

  • General playfulness that is reciprocated by the other dog – batting each other with paws, gentle mouthing and wrestling, chasing where the chaser changes throughout the game. Remember to intervene if play gets too rough, or if play isn’t reciprocated by one of the dogs.
  • Their tail is high and waggy
  • Their ears are relaxed
  • Their posture is relaxed
  • Their eyes are soft, without a fixed gaze and without seeing the whites of their eyes
  • They are showing signs of playfulness, such as play bows or wiggles.

It’s perfectly natural for your puppy to be nervous when meeting other dogs. If they are, you’ll need to provide plenty of reassurance and take things slowly with them. You’ll need to watch out for their body language that will suggest they are uncomfortable, including:

  • Tucking their tail
  • Tense or shrinking body position
  • Holding a still position
  • ‘Whale-eyeing’ that is, seeing the whites of their eyes
  • Ears held back tight to their head
  • Hiding or avoiding contact with other dogs
  • Baring teeth or snarling

If you spot these signs, remove your puppy from the situation, calm them down and try again when they are ready or on another day. If they are particularly nervous, you may benefit from working with a dog behaviourist or trainer to help create good experiences for your puppy. 

brown puppy sat looking up

Habituation

Habituation is all about getting your puppy used to the big wide world. It involves exposing your puppy or dog to both common and uncommon experiences, and encouraging calm and relaxed behaviour. 

Habituation starts from the moment your puppy is born and will continue throughout their life. The key to great habituation is making sure the experiences are fun or calm for your pup.

In some situations your puppy won’t know how to behave yet, so you’ll need to take appropriate steps to keep them safe and comfortable. This could include keeping them on a short lead, bringing a handful of their favourite treats, and removing them from the situation if they become overwhelmed.

Here’s our list of just a few of the many situations you should aim to introduce your puppy to. Why not make it a challenge to see how many you can tick off?

Around the house

  • Washing machines
  • Hairdryers
  • Vacuum cleaners
  • Wheelbarrows
  • Wheelie bins
  • Lawn mowers
  • Clanging of pots and pans
  • Enclosed spaces
  • Knocking on the door
  • Post coming through the letterbox

Different types of people

  • Men
  • Women
  • Children
  • People with disabilities
  • People wearing hats or glasses
  • Men with facial hair
  • Bald people
  • People of different races
  • Tall people
  • Short people

Out and about

  • Traffic including cyclists, pedestrians, cars, buses, and motorcyclists
  • Town centres
  • Veterinary surgeries
  • Wooded areas
  • Open fields
  • Beaches
  • Groomers
  • Pet shops
  • Dog friendly pubs

Weather

  • Thunderstorms
  • Snow
  • Rain

Surfaces

  • Grass (wet and dry)
  • Soil or mud
  • Tarmac or concrete
  • Lino, tiles, or polished floors
  • Carpet
  • Bridges

Handling

  • Touch their paws and legs
  • Checking their teeth
  • Checking their ears
  • Checking under their tail
  • Touching their body
  • Handling their collar or harness
  • Touching their nose

Experiencing so many new things is tiring work for your pup. Make sure they’re getting plenty of rest to balance out all that fun with a PitPat dog activity monitor.

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