Building a Bullet-Proof Puppy

With puppies it is easy as pie

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Puppies are sponges (for a time)

The easiest way to deal with any issues are to start young and work to avoid them happening in the first place! When puppies are young they are open to new experiences and are extremely curious about the world around them. We have until a puppy is between 16 and 20 weeks old to make the best use of their 'socialisation period'. This is a phase in early life where puppies are purely focused on exploring and learning new things. After this point many puppies can become very fearful of things that they weren't exposed to early on. A hundred years ago or so, this wouldn't have been a big deal as it is now. We now expect our dogs to slot into our lives as our companions rather than as work colleagues meaning they are exposed to much more than every before. 

Just because you miss out on the socialisation phase does not mean that your puppy will definately be nervous of new things but those things that they are exposed to later will be more difficult to deal with.

With your new puppy, make the most of this socialisation period, bring them everywhere, let them meet and greet as many people, dogs and other new things as possible. As the poster says, exposure alone isn't enough, it needs to be a positive experience every time. So nice happy voices, a few treats here and there and respect what your dog is telling you!

Some really important things to consider:

  • Lots of different people: big, small, different hair, dress, languages, etc
  • Different animals: dogs, cats, normal pets, horses, cattle, sheep, birds
  • Noises: traffic, fireworks, social gatherings, babies crying, different voices
  • Sensations: different floor types, weather, pets in all directions
  • Places: vet, groomer, coffee shops, lifts, beach, river, lake, friends houses
Have a look at our free downloadable socialisation check list to get you started. This is not a full list so do add more of your own.
To make experiences as fun as possible, take your time with them, make sure you prepare for them just in case your puppy is more nervous than you would expect. Start at a distance from the new experience, make sure your puppy is happy, give a treat and move closer. Move closer one step at a time, praising and rewarding every time. 
If your puppy gets nervous, stop at that distance, linger there a moment making it a good situation, then move away and finish up for the session. We want your puppy to learn to go to you for help rather than feel they have to manage a situation by themselves. You should always be there for your dog, build that rapport between you two and your relationship will florish. 
Be mindful when working with new or scary noises. Ideally, start with a recording of the scary noise, start at a low volume and slowly make it louder with different sessions as your dog is ok with it. Lots of praise and treats at every level. There are lots of sound samples on YouTube that you can work with or you can buy a noises CD/DVD online to help with your training.
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