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Socialising your puppy

In partnership with Dogs for Good

  • 19, May 2023
  • Read time: 7 mins

Socialisation is an important part of dog ownership. It teaches your dog how to behave in different environments, builds their confidence and strengthens your bond with them. It also helps prevent behavioural issues in the future, such as anxiety and aggression, which could lead to a claim on your insurance.

We've partnered with Dogs for Good to share our top tips on proper puppy socialisation. Learn how to introduce your dog to new places, stress signals to look out for and how to teach your pet good manners.

Two dogs greeting each other outside.

What is puppy socialisation?

Socialisation is when you expose your puppy to different people, animals and environments in a controlled and positive manner. The aim is for your puppy to become a well-adjusted adult dog that is confident in different situations. Puppy socialisation should include positive experiences with people of all ages and ethnicities, as well as other dogs, animals, sounds and smells.

Your dog’s breed may have an impact on socialisation as they all have unique instincts, temperaments and energy levels. For example, a breed originally used for protection may be more naturally wary of other people. Your individual puppy’s past experiences can also affect their behaviour.

Why is socialising for dogs so important?

Proper socialisation builds your dog’s confidence and reduces fear of the unfamiliar. By teaching them how to behave in different environments, you are reducing the chances of behavioural issues in the future, such as anxiety and aggression.

Helps with potential stressors

Proper socialisation will desensitise your puppy to indoor and outdoor stressors. Potential indoor stressors could include thunderstorms, the vacuum cleaner or strangers coming to the house. Outdoors, stressors could be other dogs, busy environments or even bicycles.

Enhances your training

When socialising your puppy outside, take the chance to practice skills such as recall and lead walking. Training in a range of environments will teach your dog good manners, obedience and to focus on you, rather than what’s going on around them.

Reduces your chance of behavioural issues

Proper socialisation at the right time can help prevent behavioural issues, such as fear, anxiety and aggression. As well as making life with your puppy easier, you’re less likely to make insurance claims related to dog bites, harm to other humans, or property damage with a well-behaved dog.

Strengthens your bond

Introducing your dog to different surroundings, people, and animals in a positive manner helps build trust and can strengthen the bond with your pet.

Impacts health and happiness

Exposing your puppy to different environments can help to build their immune system, making them less prone to getting ill from other dogs. And, with dogs being social animals, giving them the opportunity to interact and have positive experiences can make them much happier.

If you are unsure, we’d suggest speaking to a behaviourist to discover the best way to socialise your new puppy.

When should I start socialising my puppy?

Between three and fourteen weeks, your puppy is the most receptive to learning new skills. This is referred to as the ‘critical socialisation period’, where puppies learn from early experiences with their mother, siblings and the humans around them.

Here’s a timeline of some of the key socialisation stages for your dog:

Bringing your puppy home

Once your puppy gets home, they begin to learn who their new family is, who feeds them and where to turn for comfort. You can also start to introduce potential inside stressors, such as loud noises or having guests over.

Taking your puppy outside

You can start socialising your puppy outside before they have had their vaccinations. Take them out in your arms around the block or to cafes and introduce them to new people. Make sure they are not in an environment where they could interact with other unvaccinated dogs.

Introducing other dogs and animals

Once their vaccinations are complete, you can start introducing them to other dogs and animals. Make sure you take it at your puppy’s own pace. Too much too soon can lead to stress, resulting in anxiety and fear of new things.

Socialising an older dog

If you have rehomed or rescued an older dog, or your dog is struggling after lockdown, it’s not too late to start. As your puppy or dog may have negative associations already, take it very slowly and pay close attention to their behaviour.

How to socialise a puppy

Grab some treats and toys, and follow our top socialisation tips:

Keep new experiences positive

Treats and praise go a long way. Whilst out with your puppy, watch their behaviour and reward them when it is positive.

If they seem unsure or an environment is making them stressed, create space from whatever is making them anxious or calmly leave and try again another time. Dogs pick up on your feelings, so try and stay positive and relaxed.

Top tip: make it fun. Incorporate games and training to encourage them to find you the most interesting aspect of their adventure.

Build up to new places slowly

Start with familiar people and places, this will help them feel secure. Use treats to introduce them to the vacuum cleaner and the hair dryer. Then, to set them up for success, try quieter locations first. For example, before visiting a busy high street, try visiting a local store and walk by it a few times.

Top tip: watch your puppy’s body language and take it at their pace. Pushing them into an environment they are not comfortable with can lead to negative associations.

Make sure their vaccinations are up to date

Vaccinations protect your dog against serious infectious diseases. These are particularly important for puppies as their immune systems are vulnerable. Make sure your puppy is fully vaccinated before allowing them to explore foreign environments or play with other dogs.

Top tip: you can start socialising your puppy before their vaccinations are complete by taking them out in your arms.

Watch when they play with other dogs

If you meet another dog when exploring a new place, try to make it a positive experience. Check that both dogs are happy to engage before allowing any interaction. Make sure play doesn’t get too boisterous as it can quickly turn into aggression.

Top tip: find a local puppy socialisation class. These are a great way for your puppy to learn to interact with other dogs in a controlled and safe environment.

Incorporate training

Socialising your new puppy is a great chance to start getting them walking nicely on a leash or practising recall. This can emphasise their focus on you and help with overall confidence and obedience.

Top tip: read our guides on walking on a lead and recall training for some expert advice on setting your dog up for success.

Recognising signs of stress in your dog

It’s important to understand your puppy’s body language, especially during their socialisation period.

An infographic that shows dog body language for 4 behaviours. Anxious dog – raised hackles, tucked tail, ears pulled back. Alert dog – tail high, stiff posture. Playful dog – play bow, bouncy moves, wagging tail. Happy dog – relaxed, invites interactions
  • Anxious - a worried dog will tuck its tail, raise the hackles on their neck, pull back their ears and lick their lips
  • Alert - if your dog is on guard, it may raise its hackles, fixate with wide eyes, have a stiff posture and a high tail
  • Playful - play bows, bouncy moves, wagging tails, and relaxed facial expressions are all signs your dog wants to play
  • Happy - if your dog’s body and face are relaxed, they invite interactions and lean on you when petted they are likely happy

Our in-house vet, Istvan, explains: “when you notice that your dog becomes stressed, it is important to keep calm and gently reassure them. Having a safe space, regular exercise and mental stimulation can help your dog to cope better with stressful situations.”

Adapting dogs to new places

Your puppy may struggle with certain stressors in the outside world. They may bark, crouch, back or turn away, or become fixated. If you spot any of these reactions, create space, have patience, use treats, and never force them forward.

After a while, they may become more comfortable, if not it’s fine to leave and try again another day.

Protecting your dog

Socialising your puppy can impact the rest of their life, so it’s important that it’s a positive experience for them. It can help prevent anxiety, fear, aggression, and reactivity, and is good for their long-term health. This means an easier and more fun life with your dog and could also lead to fewer insurance claims and trips to the vet.

No matter how well-socialised your dog is, it’s important to be prepared. We have four levels of insurance for your puppy, so you can find the cover that works for you and your budget.

Help to look after your puppy’s health and happiness with our dog insurance

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