Puppy socialisation


Socialisation is a long period of learning in which the puppy develops all the behaviour it needs to live in a pack. It begins around week six and ends somewhere in the fourth month. Any mistakes made during the learning period can have an adverse impact on the future relationship between dog and owner.
Puppies come into the world with no knowledge of what species they belong to, which means that they have to identify with other dogs. They do this in a virtually irreversible learning process known as imprinting. An animal that is not properly imprinted is lost to its species.
The puppy is imprinted by playing with its mother and its siblings. Imprinting enables the adult dog to recognise its sexual partner, and avoid rejection of and by other dogs.

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Puppy education

With the purchase of a puppy comes a number of responsibilities, including an understanding of how to train it to preclude awkward problems in the future that may, in the worst case, result in the owner abandoning the puppy or even putting it down.

Puppies need to be trained to ensure they can live harmoniously with their owner. Housetraining and obedience are in any event essential.

The right approach to housetraining

First base is knowledge of the various stages in the puppy’s acquisition of “elimination” behaviour. In the neonatal period, the mother triggers the urination and defaecation reflexes by licking the area around the puppy’s anus, eating all faeces and urine produced.
As the puppy starts to move away from the mother and the litter, the mother will continue to lick the puppy under the tail. These reflexes will eventually disappear and the mother’s intervention will no longer be necessary. The puppy will begin urinating and defaecating further and further away from where it sleeps. At the age of six weeks it will use its sense of smell to return to where it has previously defaecated. When a puppy arrives in its new home it is generally not housetrained – the only thing that concerns it is not to soil its bed.

Puppies cannot housetrain themselves

The puppy should be taken outside for the first time around the age of two months, after it has had its first vaccinations. Up to around month four the puppy should be taken out every 5-6 hours, particularly when it wakes up and after meals.

Initially, a place – or a newspaper – should be selected that is impregnated with the puppy’s own odour. A newspaper placed in the gutter can be removed after a while. The puppy should be congratulated with praise or stroking every time it does its business in the desired location. It is a bad idea to return home immediately, as the puppy will quickly make the connection between doing its business and having to return indoors.

Of course, in spite of the best intentions of the owner, accidents are inevitable at the beginning of the process. If the puppy does soil the home, the owner should not punish it; if caught in the act, the puppy should immediately be taken outside. Newspaper should not be put down in the home because the puppy will associate this with the earlier stage of its training and wait until it gets back home before it goes.

Obedience training is also vital. Reward or punishment?

The reward approach works effectively when a number of principles are borne in mind. First, the reward should be a significant one for the dog, i.e. the owner should lavish the puppy with praise and strokes. Second, it must be exceptional, i.e. any treat the puppy receives should not be given to it at any other time. And third, it should be systematic, i.e. if the reward only comes sporadically, the puppy’s motivation will tail off and if the reward is given too late the puppy will not make the right connection.

Punishment – for example throwing a noisy object close to, but not at, the puppy or shaking the puppy by the scruff of the neck as the mother might – is only effective if the puppy is actually in the act of carrying out an inappropriate behaviour and the punishment ends immediately the puppy adopts a posture of submission. Even seconds after the event, punishment will lead to anxiety, misunderstanding by the puppy and can aggravate the problem. Punishment can seriously damage the relationship between the puppy and owner.

Training by the reward method takes patience and persistence; it makes use of the puppy’s natural desire to please its owner and helps reinforce the bond of trust between puppy and owner leading to long lasting results.

Once the owner understands these principles, training can commence.

Obedience training is easy


When training the puppy to follow commands, it’s worthwhile bearing in mind that a telling off will be completely lost on a puppy because its comprehension skills are nowhere near good enough. If it’s doing something you rather it wouldn’t, a simple forceful “no” will suffice. The puppy should be accustomed to wearing a collar at a very early age. Once it is, it should be taught to walk on a leash, first indoors. These training sessions should be short and they should be repeated several times a day. If the puppy has a tendency to pull, immediately stop the activity until the pulling stops. The right behaviour should always be immediately rewarded.

Some dogs fail to come to heel when called. They come within a few feet and run away again when the owner approaches them.

Remaining calm is essential in this type of situation; never punish the puppy and get angry, even if it dallies. This is the most common mistake people make. The puppy will simply assume that it will be punished if it comes to its master. It should actually be congratulated and stroked, and the temptation to put it straight back on the leash should be resisted. The puppy will come to associate heeding the owner’s calls with being put back on the leash and taken indoors, i.e. with being punished. The owner must adopt a calm, welcoming attitude for the puppy to want to come when called. Running after the puppy will be a fruitless operation, because the puppy will never allow itself to be caught. The best course of action is to turn and walk away, which will cause the dog to return of its own accord.

Puppies should ideally be around 4-5 months of age by the time they are taught to come when called. The owner will have to show a lot of patience. Training can start in the home. A simple “come” is all that’s needed. If the dog obeys it should be praised. Once the puppy has got good at this in the home, the next stage is continuing training outdoors ideally in an enclosed space like a yard or garden at first, then in an open space. The puppy may find it difficult to reproduce its behaviour outdoors at first, due to all the distractions. In this case, the important thing is not to get annoyed. It might be a good idea to try indoors again, just to get the puppy back on track. Sessions should also be short, as the puppy will soon tire and lose interest.

The puppy must also be taught not to run amok in the home, biting table legs, destroying shoes or clawing at curtains. If it is caught in the act, a firm “no” is essential with redirection to an appropriate toy or activity.

Learn more

Why should I enrol my puppy in Puppy Preschool® class?

Puppy Preschool classes are the ideal start for your puppy to help him grow into a well adjusted dog that is welcome where ever you go.

These classes are specifically designed for puppies aged between 8 - 14 weeks of age and will teach your puppy good manners as well as how to interact with people and other dogs.

You will learn some fascinating facts about dogs such as how they see and smell the world as well as what to feed, how to toilet train and the best way to train him to sit and come on cue.


Kersti Seksel,
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

Breaking the attachment

When it first arrives in the home, the puppy forms a mutual attachment to a particular person. By the time it reaches 4-5 months of age, it is important to break this exclusive attachment. If not, the puppy will panic as soon as it is separated from this person. In this state of distress, the puppy will frantically look for this person, causing damage to the furniture, soiling the carpet and crying. The puppy is not throwing a tantrum, it is just worried. To avoid this, it has to learn to be on its own and not totally dependent on this one person. The first step is to ignore the puppy for a period of 30 minutes before leaving the home. If, upon returning, the dog gets all excited it should be ignored. Once it has calmed down, it can be given a stroke or two. If the puppy has caused damage, it should never be punished even if the urge to do so is strong as this will reinforce the negative behaviour. Ignoring it is the best policy. The puppy has to learn to accept separation from its owners and the only way to do this is by not responding when it wants to play or it wants some attention.

The puppy has to learn that it cannot take the initiative in a relationship with its owner.

Learning its place in the home

The dog should always eat alone, in the kitchen. It must not be allowed to beg for scraps at the table, although it should be allowed to be in the room at mealtimes. It must not be allowed to jump on beds, chairs or sofas without permission. It should be assigned a place to sleep at the earliest opportunity, although this should never be anywhere people habitually pass through or that affords it a strategic view of the comings and goings of the whole family (its “pack”). The ideal location is somewhere calm where it can relax. If it nips at the hands or feet of people passing by, they should stand still and ignore the dog until the behaviour stops and the dog learns that such behaviour is not rewarding. If necessary, the position of the dog’s bed should be changed or use made of a playpen at identified problem times. It could cause serious injury if the dog continues to bite into adulthood. Puppies should not be stroked on demand, either. Again, the human must always take the initiative in the relationship.

If the puppy is raised with other animals – humans, cats, rabbits – including fake ones such as cuddly toys, there is a risk that it will identify with this foreign species. If the puppy grows up, between week 3 and around week 16, without being round any other dogs it will identify with the species it is closest to (in this case humans, cats or rabbits or even a cuddly toy). As a consequence, in adulthood the dog will prefer the company of that species and even try to court and mate with it. At the same time, it will be aggressive to other dogs. Raising the puppy among dogs, with its mother, until it is 8 weeks old is an important way of avoiding this.

Dogs are not programmed for social interaction with other species, so they need to be given the chance to get used to other animals, for example cats, rabbits and humans. Puppies that are raised with cats will not chase after them later in life, for instance. They need to encounter other species and, where possible, different types of people – women, men and children – before they leave the breeder. It will not prevent the puppy from identifying with its own species, but it will lead to the development of interspecies socialisation and attachment that takes the edge off the dog’s natural predatory instincts.

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