To a puppy, the big wide world is full of exciting and sometimes daunting new experiences.
The number of never-seen-before sights and smells can be incredibly overwhelming to your pup as they settle into life with their new family, away from the comfort of their mothers and siblings.
Here are some tips on building your puppy’s confidence for some of the new experiences they’re about to face, like socialising with other dogs and exploring the outside world for the first time.
Top tips for socialising your puppy
Dogs are pack animals and so socialising is important for their happiness, health and wellbeing.
Just like young children, puppies need to learn how to behave around others and play nicely, but it’s up to you to show them the way!
1. Puppy training classes
Puppies are eager to learn and usually pick things up pretty quickly, so utilising that period of time to build long-lasting learned behaviours is key. Puppy training classes are a great way for them to socialise with other dogs, learn how to behave around them and pick up some other good tricks and traits along the way.
2. Helping your puppy make new friends
So, how do you socialise a puppy? Easy, let them spend as much time around other dogs as possible during their developmental months (once they’ve had their injections and are safe to be around others). They’ll learn through play and by example, led by older, more experienced pooches who make socialising look like a walk in the park!
3. Slowly build your puppy’s confidence
Socialising your puppy can be a bit nerve-wracking, especially when they’re small. We suggest gently phasing them into it. Initially, limit the amount of time and number of dogs to one as they get used to being around other four-legged friends, and then as your pup grows in confidence, so does their time around other dogs.
4. Supervised play time
Doggy play dates are a great way to start socialising your puppy, as it’s in a controlled space with one or two dogs who you know and trust. Make sure you’re always on hand throughout any social time your puppy has; your presence will reassure them that it’s a safe environment and encourage them to get involved in playful activities with other pooches.
As they’re still learning, sometimes they might find themselves a little out of their depth. The play might be getting a little too rough, they might start to feel tired, and they may need a break. Keep an eye out for any signs that your pup might not be enjoying playtime as much as before, and be ready to come and give them a hand if they need you.
After a quick cuddle and a little bit of rest, they might be ready to get back to it, so encourage them to be as involved as they like. Every time they socialise it’ll get easier, they’ll grow in confidence and they’ll have more fun!
5. What to do around big dogs
The more pooches your puppy can meet, the better.
However, larger breeds (although most likely gentle giants) can be a little terrifying at first. Take things steady, as some adult dogs are not only much bigger in size, they may not be in the mood to play with a puppy who’s got bundles of energy and could snap at your pooch.
It’s also important to remember that some larger dogs may play a little rougher than your pup is ready for. Unfortunately, some larger dogs may have an instinct (or even be trained) to attack smaller dogs.
Be careful in wide open spaces where they may be off their leads and keep your puppy close by where you’re ready to pick them up if a big dog approaches.
6. Keeping control
Part of socialising is giving your puppy some freedom to learn and build confidence. The tricky part can be balancing this with their training where rules and structure are crucial. It’s a formative time for your little fluff-ball, and the mixed messages of freedom and boundaries can sometimes be a bit confusing.
To develop a well trained dog, it takes persistence, repetition and lots of patience. They’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly if you stick with it and have a good rewards system in place.
Do bear in mind that they’re only puppies who are learning and will make mistakes along the way, so be forgiving and keep going — they’ll get there eventually!
7. Letting them take the lead
Another key thing to remember is to let your puppy figure things out for themselves. Try and let them be as curious as possible; your support will give them the courage to learn more through new (but possibly daunting) experiences. Where appropriate, give them the freedom to explore, don’t shout or pull them away unless it’s for their own safety. This helps them become more independent and grow in confidence.
8. Teaching your puppy about safety
Always be aware of your surroundings wherever you go with your puppy. It’s important to stay extra vigilant as they learn the rules of safety whilst out and about.
They won’t yet understand the potential dangers around them such as roads, cyclists, other dogs or busy crowds. Usually, they’re just excited to be somewhere new, surrounded by a bouquet of new smells — so it’s up to you to keep them out of harm’s way.
With practice, and guidance, they’ll learn how to behave and not let excitement get the better of them, so be patient and persistent.
9. How to socialise puppies with young children
It’s best to explain to young children what they should and shouldn’t do with the puppy before they meet, so they understand the rules and don’t cause the pup any stress.
Introduce them to one another and let their friendly, inquisitive natures do the rest. Kids and puppies make for great friends once they get to know each other — they’re sure to be in for years of fun growing up together!
Always be on hand to keep any rough and tumble in check; it’s not unheard of for children to over-excite puppies, who then may nip in response to being overwhelmed. We would always recommend an adult being in the room when a dog is present with a child, as even the most docile of dogs may turn if provoked.
10. Getting them used to the outside world
Socialising your dog not only means getting them used to being around other people and dogs, it’s also important to get them used to what’s out there in the big wide world.
From the sounds of cars to the scents of other animals they may come across (cats, farm animals and so on), it’s important you get your pooch used to what they can expect to hear, see and smell whilst out on their walkies.
As a new pup, even before they’re able to head out for their official first walk post-jabs, it’s a good idea to carry them outside along places like roads to get them used to the sounds and smells they’ll soon be experiencing. It's also a good opportunity to put on their lead and collar or harness to get them used to wearing it out of the house.
That way, they won’t be so overstimulated once they’re safe to explore further than their back garden, and will know what to expect, putting them at ease and giving them some confidence to enjoy their new adventures.
Your puppy will take a lot of cues from you. If you’re acting nervously or on edge about things like walks, other dogs or leaving them alone, they will mirror that energy and possibly develop a nervous habit, which can then be hard to unlearn.
Puppy Club is here to help you feel confident in raising your pooch, every step of the way.