So You’re Getting a Pup, Part 3 – Socialising Your Puppy Versus Puppy Vaccinations

Socialising Your Puppy to Experiences Outside the Home is Crucial but Care Must be Taken…

At this stage your pup has been with you a couple of weeks. So far you have crate trained him, so much so that he is no doubt wandering in and out of it regularly for snoozes. There is no barking at nighttime and he is holding his wee overnight. You have been toilet training your pup for the last two weeks, which at this point should be paying dividends. If you do not see noticeable improvements in that respect it suggests you really need to give it 3-4 days of better attention and now is the time to address it. He has learned the “wait” command before dinner and with treats on the floor and likely has his name, somewhat.

So well done, take a breath, you’ve a lot done, give yourself a pat on the back, job well done.

Undoubtedly we’d all like our dogs to learn a few tricks. This makes sense. A controlled dog is a safe dog. Teaching a young pup is divided in two – socialisation and training. We will discuss the former today.

After a week or two your pup is starting to adore his new family and home. He loves his bed. Loves his garden. Loves his dinner. Life is great fun. There’s nothing to worry about…in here. Out the front door is a different matter. Out there the world is colossal, noisy, strange and very often, scary.

pup peeking around door

The Imprinting Period…

Before training, you must understand that good socialisation is central to a confident dog. We want happy dogs first and foremost and that comes from having little to be afraid of. Also, happy, confident dogs are easy to train!

In terms of building life-confidence in a pup, the 4-16wk stage is most crucial. It is known as the Imprinting Period. This is, far and away, the most important time from a learning and development standpoint for your pup. They are like sponges during this period. They will learn most of what they love and what to avoid during this period. Thus, you must ensure your pup experiences everything you can think of during this period in a very positive manner.

Often if they do no experience it during these first 16weeks they can find them a bit scary later in life.

He must receive plenty of hands-on by all sorts of big adults and small children alike. With the latter he must learn how to play with young kids. He can’t nip them. They might scream now and again, but they’re great fun. But he also must experience everyday household appliances like hairdryers, hoovers, lawnmowers. Use treats, keep him away from them, give him a treat when they’re turned on, don’t chase him with them and he’ll soon love them! If they are worried about them simply turn them on in a different room and give him his dinner. Soon he’ll associate dinner with the sound and love them, changing it from a negative to a positive association. The basics of dog training really.

Working dogs are a great example here. From army dogs retrievers that do not flinch when a gun goes off to a guide dog stepping calmly over the gap on a train (they would normally jump), these dog are first and foremost very well socialised. They are out and about from a young age, in a controlled manner, exposed in a highly positive way to all events and occurrences, experiences that would make the average dog run for cover.

However, many of these experiences are necessarily outside the home. Cars. Trucks. Busy streets. Crowds. Pigeons. Crisp packets. Unfortunately, your young, 10-12wk old pup is not properly vaccinated. Thus, you are faced with a dilemma.

I’m now Going to say two Things That are Contrary to What Your vet Will Tell you…

First of all, you need to read up on the best advice for vaccinating puppies. The article will highlight that the top vet immunologists are advising to vaccinate your pups for the core vaccines (parvo, distemper, adeno) beginning around 11wks (after Mums immunity has worn off) and for each of these to be given one at a time where possible. They recommend a second booster 6-8wks after this as we’re still not quite sure if Mums antibodies will interfere with the first jab.

I personally only concern myself with parvovirus and distemper, as adenovirus (hepatitis, essentially) hasn’t been seen in many, many years in Ireland or the UK.

Your vet, certainly if Irish or UK, will probably recommend “7 disease in 1” from the age of 8wks with copious amounts of boosters for life, against the science and advice coming down from the top.

The second thing I would recommend which is contrary to the average vet is that your pup needs to get out and about ASAP to begin his socialisation. Vets are incredible at the sickness side of things but trainers they most certainly are not. They learn practically nothing of behaviour and have no business advising on it, any more than a regular GP is prepared to work with behavioural issues in children.

Thus you need to consider taking the pup out before his second booster.

puppy on lead

If you were to go by the best advice, which I recommend though you have to make up your own mind on the matter, you might consider giving his first jab at 10wks so you begin his outdoor socialisation. It is possible that your pup will not be fullly protected during his first forrays into the outside world so you should take the following consideration into mind:

  • keep him on the lead
  • keep him away from strange dogs
  • keep him away from licking and digging in dirty corners
  • keep him up in your arms at trouble times

Is this ideal? No, it’s not. In an ideal world, we would be able to keep our dogs in for the first 16-20wks (and play with them every hour of the day). However, from a training and socialisation point of view, this is disastrous. This is the way we did in Guide Dogs. Never lost a single pup that was vaccinated with their first inoculation, nor have I heard of it to happen in another vaccinated pup, ever. I like those odds.

So you might consider bringing them out. First you need to introduce him to his lead. This is done inside the house and out the back garden first but most pups take to it perfectly well. Keep your first walks very short and very positive. Maybe bring some treats or a toy. They be a little reluctant to go out at first, never drag them, coax them with treats and toys. Play in the driveway. Front garden etc, moving a little closer to street each time. Don’t overload them. After one or two times they will learn there are treats and toys to be had, they’ll love it.

Pick a different walk each time. Leave busier streets until he’s older. Quiet little roads. Stop at kerbs. Sit and watch the world go by. Keep it light and positive.

Only Dogs can Teach Dogs how to be Dogs…

Now that you’re working on his experiences, please don’t forget that you are only teaching this dog how to fit into a human’s world. You also must focus on socialising him with other dogs. Again, wait till he has had his first jab and then find a local puppy class. This teaches them to love other dogs, not to fear them. Make sure they are well run and once again, keep the time there short.

puppy class

Also think about bringing your pup to the homes of other dogs (one’s you know are vaccinated). Nobody teaches a young pup like an old dog. They will not allow the pup to bite them too hard, or charge at them etc. Quiet dogs make quiet pups, so if your pup hangs out with a nut-job he will learn bad habits. Your pup will learn quick and this will prevent you from being one of those owners with a dog terrified of others in the park.

Remember, when out and about with your pup, should your pup be attacked by a big black dog during the imprinting period your pup can grow up to harbour a fear of big black dogs. Hence, every care must be taken when out and about with your pup in that 4-16wk period.

And don’t forget, on the way home from class, pick him up some fresh meaty bones from the butcher. He is chewing like mad now, best he chews on a lovely, nutritious bone!

***

Next week, we begin a little obedience training…

Dr. Conor Brady

After a doctorate studying the effects of nutrition on the behaviour and gut morphology of animals, five years with Guide Dogs as a trainer and supervisor, some success on Dragons Den with the finest raw dog food company and the last few years both writing and speaking on canine nutrition and health, I can say with some confidence that the pet food and drug industry cares not a jot for the health of your pet.
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