You spend hours, carefully researching breeders and selecting the best you can find. Visit several times to meet your puppy and see them with their mother and littermates, perhaps meeting the father as well. Regular updates and photos arrive from the breeder, keeping you in the loop of how your puppy is doing. Then the day comes, you go and collect your new little family member, bringing them home. Now starts the job of puppy training.
Put aside any visions of a perfect puppy within weeks resembling an obedience champion – that is not the most pressing focus of puppy training. There is a whole lifetime in which to coach your dog how to various things you would like them to do. The wonderful little sponge for information that is a puppy brain needs something else during these first few weeks. The most important form of puppy training is teaching them about life.
A word often seen when talking about puppies is socialisation, and it is one canine professionals mention a lot and talk about the importance of it. Socialisation is the cornerstone of helping a puppy grow up to be a happy, confident dog. It involves showing the puppy, during the time his or her brain is wired to learn about this world they have found themselves in, that there is no need to be scared. Done well, the puppy training of socialisation results in a young dog who is confident and resilient. By introducing the puppy to all manner of new people, things, sights and sounds during the first few weeks in their new life in a way that is positive and kind, we increase the likelihood of that dog being confident around new things for the rest of their lives.
This socialisation window, also known as the critical learning period, closes at approximately 14 weeks of age. As puppies should not leave their litters before 8 weeks and after initial vaccinations vets usually recommend puppies are kept safely away from places other dogs have been for a couple of weeks, this means not much time is left to complete as much socialisation as possible after vaccinations are completed. With care, however, it is possible to socialise the puppy during this time.
A puppy carried can still see new sights and encounter new smells. The same is true of the puppy pushed in a buggy – seeing, hearing and smelling the world they will be living in, but separated from the risk of catching a disease. Puppies can also see a variety of people from in the arms of their guardian or the buggy. It is important that they see as many different kinds of people as possible: men, women, children, people wearing hats, carrying umbrellas, in wheelchairs etc. Remember never to force an interaction, as that can backfire and have the opposite effect, making the puppy scared of that particular object or type of person. It can also damage your bond, effectively giving your puppy training that you may make them do scary things. Scheduling garden playdates with friendly dogs who are fully vaccinated means a puppy can get that vital canine social interaction without the risk.
Time put in to this most important type of puppy training will be the best investment ever made in the future of your relationship with your dog, and your dog’s relationship with the world.