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Socialising my unvaccinated puppy

Socialisation is the learning process that a puppy must undergo to learn key life skills required to be a confident and well-rounded puppy in their environment. Exposing your puppy to as many different sights, sounds, smells, textures and experiences at a level they can cope with is vital to preventing behaviour problems down the line. Believe it or not, this starts well before your puppy’s vaccinations. Your breeder should have already been doing bits to ensure your puppies are starting to get the right exposure but now you’ve brought home this 8 week bundle of fluff and it’s your turn! So how do you do it?

Just because your puppy can’t go on the ground in public spaces doesn’t mean they can’t start getting the exposure they need. Think about all of the things your puppy will experience as an adult and see what you can start to incorporate into your routine. You can travel them in the car, open the boot and watch the world go by supermarket or nature reserve car parks. You could use a baby sling or buggy to go out for a walk together. You could take them to friends’ houses and let them explore a new home and garden. If they have vaccinated dogs or cats then even better!

The key to exposure training is that you do is to keep it short and sweet and always positive! Your puppy doesn’t need to meet lots of other dogs and people at this stage (see my blog on socialisation), but it is good for them to see these things and get fed treats by you. Try and prevent people from coming over to say hello to your puppy, particularly if they are in your arms as it can be quite scary being restrained and having some stranger’s hand come looming over your head! Look out for body language such as tucked tail, ears pinned back, lip licking, yawning, showing the whites of their eyes or looking away as these are indications your puppy is finding it too much and needs some reassurance and to go back somewhere they are comfortable.

As your puppy is seeing all of these new things, talk to them in soft and gentle tones and offer them little pieces of food for seeing things and remaining relaxed. Make sure you don’t try and entice your puppy into a situation where they’re not ready by using food as this can make them feel a bit conflicted and confused; wanting the food but not wanting to go closer to the scary thing. If your puppy can’t food or play with the toy you’re offering then it might be an indication they’re not sure and need a little bit of space or a break.

There are also things you can do within the home to socialise your puppy too. You can play different sounds such as fireworks, traffic noise, children playing, and dogs barking very quietly to start with whilst your puppy enjoys a licky mat or kong, gradually building this up as your puppy becomes less bothered by the noise. The Dogs Trust has some great resources on this here

You can also get your puppy used to new surfaces. Lay out different textures on the floor such as astroturf, tin foil, cling film, carpet offcuts or even surfaces that wobble slightly such as cushions and encourage your puppy to walk across. Try not to lure your puppy with food, just encourage them with your voice but once they have stood on the surface you can then give them a treat to build a positive association. 

Allowing your puppy to approach other people and dogs in their own time is also really important. Don’t invite too many people round the house at once (I know everyone will want to come round and meet your new puppy!) Get your guests to sit on the floor or the sofa and allow your puppy to come over when they are ready. Ask your visitors to sit still and let your puppy have a good sniff, feed them some treats but don’t move directly into petting puppy. 

Have a go at all of this and you should have a confident puppy by the time they’re ready to go for their first walk. If you notice your puppy is unusually worried by a lot of the things you’re trying, then get in touch with a trainer to help guide you on the right path. Remember, take things slow, let your puppy take the lead and have fun doing it!


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