Puppy’s should be socialised between the age of 6 to 8 weeks and for up to 16 weeks. This period is key in developing your pet’s future confidence. It’s when they discover new experiences and learn what is safe and what is not.
Usually puppy’s stay with their breeder up until around 8 weeks, where it will learn how to interact with its littermates. After this it's over to the new owner to introduce the puppy to new experiences.
Puppies that are not socialised properly during this time, risk moving into adulthood fearing certain people or situations. This can be a challenge for new adult dog owners.
Don't be tempted to think that your dog breed doesn't need it. Even sociable dogs like Labrador Retrievers need socialisation in order to help develop the confidence and disposition they're known for.
Meeting children and adults
Puppies: If you own a puppy you should introduce your puppy to children and adults as early as possible. However, don’t pass your puppy to them. Instead, let your puppy go over to them in their own time. They need to feel comfortable enough to do this, and able to extract themselves if needs be.
If your dog is showing signs of anxiety, then remove them from the situation and try again later. They’ll show they're anxious by holding thei tail down, ears back and staying away.
Adult dogs: For adult dogs, you should again allow your dog to approach adults and children in their own time. Don’t force the situation as they may feel nervous. Try to introduce new people once a week, so as not to overwhelm her.
If they run and hide, then try doing something you know they like, such as cooking some of their favourite food. Don’t try and persuade them to come out just let them come to you.
The important thing is to ignore any bad behaviour and reward the good. You don’t want to be reinforcing their fears about a certain situation.
Introducing a puppy to an older dog
It’s important to introduce your puppy to a range of dogs so that they learn valuable social skills from them, and that they have nothing to fear.
However, the problem here is that it’s unlikely your puppy will have completed her full course of primary vaccinations. This could put her at risk of catching a canine disease.
To overcome this, you should socialise her with dogs you know are fully up to date on their vaccines. Your friend’s dogs are a good example. You can also take your puppy to classes, where dog’s will need to meet certain criteria before joining. You can find out more about these on the Kennel Club website
You should also avoid areas where there's likely to be dog waste in case they attempt to eat it. This could result in ingesting parasites and making your dog sick. In situations like this, carry your dog.
Don’t be tempted not to socialise your dog at this stage because it’s vital they learn while young how to interact.
You may find your puppy is a little too excited when meeting new dogs. However if an older dog doesn’t want to be playful, he will usually let your pup know.
Introducing older dogs to one another
Older dogs can be territorial, so this should be done carefully.
When they first meet, keep both dogs on a lead, and meet in an open place, such as a park.
Don’t let the dogs touch or sniff each other at this stage. The initial meeting is very important, and there will be a lot of tension in the air.
If they attack each other, this will establish the grounds of their relationship.
Instead go for a walk with both dogs – with one dog in front of the other. This will focus their energies on the walk, and not each other.
As you’re walking, allow them to sniff each other’s behinds – which is a normal dog behaviour.
If one of the dogs has a poop, allow the other dog to sniff it. This again is a behaviour that helps to establish bonding.
Once you’ve finished your walk, the dogs should be a little more comfortable around each other.
If you find the dogs get on well from the very beginning, you may not need to follow these steps so closely. Just ensure they don’t begin to show aggression towards each other. And if they do, separate them, and try again later.
Dogs meeting in the home
Dogs are very territorial, so initial introductions should be away from the home. Once the two dogs are more comfortable with each other, you can introduce the new dog to your home.
If you have a garden, try allowing the dogs to meet there first.
Next steps would involve the ‘in home’ introduction. Keep the existing dog in the garden, while the new dog enters your home. Then bring the existing dog in.
Don’t let the dogs spend too much time together, just allow them enough time to say hello, and be comfortable with each other.
If either dog shows signs of aggression, then separate them.
Don’t forget to remove any of the original dog’s toys or bowl items from around the home or garden to avoid any conflict over them between the new and existing dog.
How to introduce a puppy to an older dog in the home
You should introduce the puppy to the older dog on neutral ground such as a park, to avoid territorial behaviour. The process is the same as with introducing older dogs to one another.
Once they’re more accustomed to each other, you can begin the home introductions. which again are similar to those for older dogs.
Puppies are very boisterous and don’t understand adult dog communication methods. They’ll jump on your older dog and try to get his attention. Your older dog will tell your puppy off, by growling, baring his teeth or staring at her. This tells the puppy ‘stop it, this isn’t normal grown up dog behaviour’.
If your older dog gets physically aggressive with her though, this should be stopped immediately.
You should provide both dogs with a place they can retreat to by themselves. Like with children and parents, dogs too need some time to themselves.
You should also feed both dogs in a separate space and supervise them carefully when they’re playing.
Importantly you should never force a situation with either dog or punish a dog for bad behaviour.
Finally, you should also spend some time with each dog individually. Researched published by the University of California and published in the Telegraph, suggests that dogs do get jealous, and this evolved to protect social relationships.
Spending time with your older dog will help prevent him feeling ‘replaced’ by your new arrival.