In this post we will look at why socialisation is so important for your puppy and how to do it without even having to leave the house! If you have recently adopted a rescue dog you may also find this post helps you with ideas whilst your new family member settles in.
What is Socialisation?
Exposing your dog to new experiences, sights, sounds and smells in a positive and gradual manner. This helps your dog build confidence and social immunity around things they will come across in daily life. Dogs who have been poorly socialised as puppies are more likely to develop behavioural issues and aggression because they are fearful.
Ideally most of what a puppy needs to be exposed to should occur before 12 weeks old. This is quite a task considering that most cannot go on walks before this time. Although socialisation should be a continuous process throughout your dog’s life, after 12 weeks positive associations towards new stimuli are harder to form.
This post will give you some ideas of how to recreate new experiences at home and get your puppy used to novel things.
Why Socialise Them Without Leaving the House?
In an ideal world we would want to expose them to outdoor elements too (many of which you can get from your garden) but there may be some valid reasons to keep your puppy at home:
- Lockdown. If you are reading this post when it was written we are sadly in the middle of a global pandemic. This means staying at home and keeping safe.
- First few days. Allowing your puppy or rescue dog to settle at home and gain confidence around the house will increase chances of positive success outside.
- Your health. If you have an injury or illness which means you can’t leave the house it is vital you are still able to provide socialisation for your puppy at home.
- Puppy is too young for walks. Naturally there are many things that a puppy is exposed to outside on walks like new sounds and textures. We can still provide them with this at home with a bit of creative thinking!
- Extreme weather. You should refrain from taking your puppy outside on very hot or cold days. Puppies struggle to maintain a stable body temperature and can become unwell quickly.
Note: Whilst doing any of these activities with your puppy, stay with them and supervise carefully. Stop if they show any signs of stress or fear.
1. Confidence Course
Make a mini obstacle course for your puppy with safe items from around the house. If you have a particularly anxious or timid pup then only introduce them to one item at a time before laying down the course.
The course could look like anything! Your puppy might have to navigate past an open umbrella, a suitcase, a lampshade, a basket, and a plant pot. You should also try using things that puppy can walk on to experience different textures beneath such as a hardback book, a cushion, a yoga mat and a piece of cardboard.
Always supervise your puppy whilst they are exploring in case they start chewing something they shouldn’t. Of course sniffing and exploring with their paws is fine, we want them to have the confidence to do this.
TOP TIP: Scatter some treats around the course to make it really positive and fun for puppy to explore
2. Noise Box
Get an empty cardboard box and fill it with puppy safe materials. These can be anything from scrunched up newspaper (remove staples), empty toilet rolls, leaves (non-toxic plants), towels, empty plastic bottles etc.
The idea is to expose pup to different sounds and items moving around. You can start with a small box and then make it large enough for them to go inside once they are confident.
Never force your puppy to interact with the box or place them inside. Scatter a few bits of kibble or treats inside the box to encourage them to explore.
3. Dress Up
Although we may not think it’s a big deal, novel clothes and accessories can pose a worry for dogs who have never seen them before. Dogs can find it difficult to know where we begin and what we wear ends.
It is not uncommon for an otherwise friendly dog to suddenly begin barking and lunging at someone walking past in a large brimmed hat and sunglasses. To them the accessories have completely changed the shape of the person.
To help your dog overcome their confusion when they come across new people, you can play dress up at home and expose them to various styles. Although you may feel a bit silly, it will be worth it and luckily you’re behind closed doors!
Start by putting the items on in front of your puppy rather than suddenly appearing already wearing them. Resume normal activities whilst you are dressed up. If your puppy looks a little unsure, gently speak to them and scatter a few treats on the floor.
As long as your dog isn’t frightened by what you are wearing you can be as creative as you like – think vogue catwalk.
The car is another strange concept to dogs. There is lots to get used to including the smell of petrol, the movement, the sounds of traffic outside and being restrained.
The best way to positively expose your puppy to the car is by getting them used to it whilst stationary.
How do you want your puppy to travel now and as an adult? Check out this link to help you learn more about safe car journeys with dogs. Whatever method of transport you choose they will need to get used to this now.
Spend some time just sitting in the car with your puppy, let them explore and get used to the scents and textures. Avoid doing this on hot days where the car can heat up to dangerous temperatures inside.
Once your puppy seems comfortable with the car itself, positively introduce what they will be transported in. For example if you choose a car crate, make sure they have lots of good experiences inside before travelling. You can use toys and treats to make it a fun place and build up the duration they spend inside.
5. Sound Desensitisation
Bring the noise of the outdoor world inside with recorded sound clips. Dog’s Trust have excellent resources on how to do this as well as pre-recorded sounds of everything you can think of from dogs barking, to fireworks to alarms.
Please read the instructions carefully to introduce these sounds positively and prevent frightening your puppy. This is one of the most useful training exercises you can do with any dog, particularly those that are sound sensitive.
Regardless of whether you can go outdoors with your puppy I would recommend prioritising this as a daily exercise.
Note: Please ensure you download and read the sounds scary booklet and the sounds sociable booklet from the page before playing any of the tracks.
6. Household Appliances and Tools
Household appliances that make lots of noise and movement can be very worrisome for dogs. Some of the most common culprits are vacuums, steam cleaners, brooms, washing machines and hair dryers.
Whilst you are stuck inside this is a perfect time to get your dog used to appliances around the house. The trick is to build up the intensity of the item slowly and break it into steps before using it normally. For example:
- Allowing your puppy to sniff a broom lying on the floor
- Allowing your puppy to explore an upright broom
- Making the sound of the broom by brushing it against your hand
- Moving the broom slowly
- Making a brief sweeping movement with the broom
- Sweeping a small area of the house
- Sweeping as normal
Throughout this process you should praise and treat your dog for calm behaviour. If you are still unsure how to do this check out this video that should help you understand more:
I challenge anyone to keep their hands off a puppy! Not only are they adorable and soft to touch, studies have shown stroking a dog actually lowers our stress levels. But does the dog always enjoy it?
There are different types of handling your puppy will need to get used to – affection, emergency and formal.
Affection: This includes stroking, scratching, rubbing and potentially having strangers reach for them. Most dogs genuinely do love affection from people but we need to teach puppy it’s a good thing. We can do this by:
- Inviting puppy over to be stroked rather than going into their space
- Avoid handling them if they are asleep on their beds
- One person at a time to give affection
- Monitoring for signs of stress or avoidance and stopping if this occurs
- Aiming for neutral areas to stroke such as the chest, chin and shoulders
- Avoid clapping them or patting their heads
Emergency: Although the kindest way to get your puppy or dog out of immediate danger is by calling them away, we all know that sometimes they are too distracted. Teaching your puppy to be OK with grabbing their collar and restraining them is good practice and will prevent them reacting if this has to happen in an actual emergency.
You will need to start very slowly, breaking the movement down into increments before practicing it for real. Start by touching your puppy’s collar and saying ‘good’ followed by a treat. Then slip one finger under the collar and repeat. Build this up over time until you can suddenly reach out and grab your puppy’s collar without them reacting.
Note: At no point do you need to be rough or drag your puppy away. They just need to get used to your arm shooting out and putting some light tension on their collar.
Formal: Your dog will need to be examined and restrained by vets and groomers throughout their life. Before we expect them to be OK being formally handled by strangers, we must ensure that they are comfortable being handled this way by us.
We can do this by incorporating areas we would not usually touch whilst they are relaxed and enjoying some affection. For example as you stroke your puppy’s back slide your hand all the way down along their tail. As you stroke your puppy’s face gently lift their lips to look at their teeth.
To make this an extra positive experience, feed them a treat or piece of kibble everytime you examine a new area. Think of ways a vet might want to look at your dog and practice doing that with them. For example you could lift up a paw or pretend to look inside their ears followed by a treat.
There is lots of equipment you will need to get your puppy used to before using it properly. This includes collar, harness, grooming brushes, nail clippers, lead, long line and crate.
Like other activities mentioned in this post, always go slowly and build up in increments. Start by just showing your puppy the equipment before putting it near them. You will need lots of treats and patience whilst you get them used to it all.
The equipment you choose can also make a difference. Always invest in quality lightweight collars, leads and harnesses to ensure your puppy is comfortable and more accepting. Increase the time gradually that your puppy is wearing or experiencing the equipment. Make it a positive and fun experience for them with treats and praise.
9. Gardens and Driveways
Gardens and driveways provide a safe and stimulating environment for your puppy whilst from the comfort of your own home.
Unless the area is fully secure make sure your puppy is on a lightweight long line to explore at their leisure without escaping. Most gardens and driveways provide lots of new and interesting smells as well as different textures such as grass, concrete, gravel and wood.
Driveways can also provide the experience of passing cars, the smell of fumes, the sight of other dogs and pedestrians to name a few. This is a great place to spend some time before venturing outside properly to build their confidence. You can bring some treats and toys with you to make the experience even more positive.
A Few Extra Tips
- Keep sessions short but practice daily
- If your puppy shows any signs of worry, stop and revisit again later at a slower pace
- Get some tasty healthy treats to build positive associations quicker
- Don’t stop at 12 weeks old. Use the same slow, calm and positive method when introducing your dog to anything new
Socialisation is our responsibility and a huge priority. How confidently your dog can navigate the world will impact them and you on a daily basis.
If you are struggling to socialise your dog or they are showing extreme signs of fear please don’t hesitate to contact me to see how I can help.
The list above is just a few ideas of how to get your puppy or dog used to new things. Have you tried any others? Let me know in the comments below.