A well socialised puppy is one that has been positively exposed to a large variety of dogs, people and places. Your puppy also needs regular exposure to all types of different dogs. This includes the full ranges of sizes from giant to miniature. As well as young, old, male, female, neutered and unneutered. There is usually lots of people keen to come and meet your new puppy but its also important your puppy goes to places there are lots of people that just ignore them so you can practice walking past. We don’t puppies to think that every stranger is going to interact with them or you will end up with a dog that wants to run up to every person in the park. Similarly we don’t want a dog that runs across the park to any dog it sees. Socialisation is as much about being able to ignore other dogs as it is about being able to interact with other dogs. Practicing a walk to heel dogs that are on lead is key here. A puppy that runs up to every dog in the park and tries to engage them in play is not a well socialised puppy and likely to gets itself and you into trouble. As a rule you shouldn’t let your puppy or dog approach any dog that is on a lead. There is usually a reason they are on lead and may not be friendly or get over excited around other dogs and their owner may well get cross if you are unable to call your puppy away and their dog is starting to get wound up. If you see a dog on a lead it is safest to put your puppy on a lead or long line while you pass them until you are very confident in their recall skills. People and dogs being around in the distance should become a non-event because they are used to seeing them and nothing happening. Ensure your puppy is regularly exposed to all different sorts of people i.e young and old, quiet and loud, male and female, fast moving, slow moving and stationary. Also consider exposure to different body shapes, different ethnicities and things like uniforms, hats and umbrellas. Socialisation is not only visual but also olfactory (smell), audio and touch. Puppies need to get used to all the different smells and sounds out there as well as what things feel like i.e. different textures. Pick lots of different places to take your puppy to not just your nearest park. Some examples might include town centres (walking past shops), school gates, pet shops, outdoor markets, woods, parks, beaches, canals, car parks, farmers fields (which has public access), vets and groomers, paths alongside busy traffic. The more places they have been to the more confident and calm they will be wherever you take them.
Puppies need to learn that different dogs have different personalities. Some will want to play, some will prefer a short calm interaction and other dogs need space and won’t tolerate interacting at all. A puppy that is well socialised with other dogs is one that can read other dogs body language and respond to it accordingly. Puppies must master a calm and polite greeting of other dogs that usually involves a butt sniff. Help your puppy out by encouraging them to walk up to other dogs calmly and steer them round to the rear end of the other dog if possible. Watch the body language of the other dog and if they start to go stiff or look uncomfortable call your puppy away. If your puppy is trying to engage another dog in play who clearly isn’t interested it is important to remove your puppy from that situation before the other dog is forced to show aggression. We don’t want puppies to be left to annoy other dogs as they aren’t learning to read the other dogs signals and may misinterpret the other dog getting cross as a form of play. Puppies that regularly do this may become adult dogs that enjoy getting a reaction from other dogs even if it isn’t a positive one.
Watching a puppy explore the world around them is a magical sight and there is a lot of fun to be had. Puppies have to grow up fast and the tolerance other people and dogs have for a the behaviour of a very young puppy wont still apply to your much older puppy who should know bigger. The window to get a dog fully comfortable and fluent in dog can close by the time they are 12 months old. After this time it is much harder to socialise a dog and they may never learn to play with other dogs in an acceptable manner if they haven’t had the practice as a puppy, although teaching them to be calm around other dogs is possible at any age.