At Holmefield we recommend early socialisation and habituation of your puppies. Because we know how important early socialisation and habituation are, we have teamed up with Jane Hanshaw, a qualified canine behaviourist, to run puppy parties. These parties provide an opportunity for your puppy to socialises with other puppies and learn about behaviour and puppy care. Puppies are invited to attend from eight to fourteen weeks of age and must have had their first vaccination. They are held at the Brayton branch at 6pm every Thursday. Please contact the branch to register your interest.
At the start of their lives, all animals go through what is known as a ‘sensitive development period’. During this time, they encounter the world for the first time – and learn to accept what they find. In puppies, this period starts at birth and lasts until about 14 weeks of age. Anything a puppy experiences during that time will become part of its natural order of things. After that age, unfamiliar objects and experiences can cause a fearful response (sometimes extremely fearful) and can ultimately lead to aggression.
It is important, therefore, that you introduce your puppy to as much of the environment and lifestyle as possible, as soon as possible. Learning to interact normally with adults, children, other dogs and pets is called socialisation. The experience of household noises like appliances, cars, the countryside and city – becoming accustomed to a wide range of habitats and environments – is called habituation.
How do I socialise and habituate my puppy?
Both socialisation and habituation are relatively easy to achieve. But the process does require a little thought and effort. Over-stimulation of a very young dog can be counter-productive: in essence, you could teach a puppy to be frightened of something for the rest of its life rather than accepting it! A phased programme of socialisation and habituation is needed, with the stimuli gradually increasing in strength.
Another factor to watch is the threat of disease. Natural immunity to the common killer diseases is acquired from the mother’s milk, but this fades over time – only to be replaced by the immunity stimulated by vaccinations. Until recently, vaccination regimes have prevented owners from taking the puppy out until after the sensitive period has ended. Fortunately with more modern vaccines this is no longer the case. Our vets and nurses will be able to advise you on integrating vaccination with a solid and safe socialisation/habituation programme.
Finally, as you’re most likely to acquire your new puppy from a breeder – often already half way through the sensitive period, you should check carefully how much socialisation and habituation has taken place. A puppy kept isolated in a kennel or a barn – or a puppy bred by a woman and never exposed to the scent of a man – could well experience problems later in life. As ever, you should buy with your head, and only let your heart take over later!
Why are socialisation and habituation so important?
More young adult dogs are euthanized because of behavioural problems than die from the diseases we vaccinate against.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these behavioural problems are brought about by poor socialisation. For example, if a puppy has never met a postman, or a child, and encounters one of these for the first time later in life, it can become extremely fearful. A natural response of a fearful dog, if it has no other means of escape, is aggression.
Proper habituation helps prevent similar problems. Imagine trying to take a dog who has never encountered a car on a journey – the poor animal will be sick with fear, and may become aggressive. And, if a puppy has not been accustomed to separation from its owners during the sensitive period, it may, in later life, bark, whine, lose toilet control or be destructive whenever it is left alone.