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Socialising is the single most important process in a young dog’s life, and how much you do or fail to do will directly affect the future character of your dog.

If your dog is not socialised, it may become shy, fearful or even aggressive. It may not develop the appropriate canine body language necessary to interact well with other dogs. Puppies that have been well socialised generally grow into happy, confident dogs.

Socialising your dog involves introducing it to a whole range of new experiences including meeting different types of people, dogs, other animals, places, smells and noises. Your dog should be introduced to new situations gently and be rewarded for calm behaviour. Remember you are teaching your young puppy skills in coping with the unpredictable nature of life. Who knows when a car will suddenly backfire, a cat will appear or you decide to take a holiday with friends who also have dogs.

Socialisation needs to be done sensibly.

It is not simply a matter of letting your puppy play with other dogs or walking it along a busy city street. It is very important that you provide your puppy with as many positive experiences as possible. This will increase its confidence in you as a leader and in the world in general. For example, carefully select the dogs that you allow your puppy to meet. It is better to allow your puppy to meet 5 friendly dogs than 20 dogs in a park at random. It is important that your puppy can play with other puppies in order to learn bite inhibition. If you have ever watched puppies play, you will notice that there is a lot of mouthing involved. This is a wonderful way for puppies to explore their new teeth and learn just how softly they must bite in order not to cause their playmates any pain.

Dogs - Take care when introducing your dog to other dogs. The best way to introduce dogs is on a leash. Allow your dog to approach the strange dog ‘side on’, have a quick sniff and step back for a moment. Reward you dog for this brief but friendly interaction.

People - Just as your dog needs to interact with other dogs, it will also benefit from meeting many different types of people. This is a great time to invite your friends around for dinner. Encourage your friends to interact with the puppy, giving food treats and pats for calm and confident behavior. Be sure always to supervise your puppy around children. Make an effort to introduce your puppy to all kinds of people.

Environment - When introducing your puppy to new surroundings pay attention to your dog’s composure. If it is holding its ears back, has its tail down and is trying to make itself appear smaller, it is telling you that it is afraid. Encourage your puppy gently with a happy tone to your voice and reward it with some food treats as its confidence increases. Encourage your puppy to investigate new surroundings. If the new surroundings are too strange or noisy, your puppy may become frightened. This is not what you want. Teaching your new puppy that new things are scary is counterproductive. Remove your puppy from a stressful situation and gradually reintroduce it to the new environment to build up confidence.

While the most important time for socialising your dog is during puppyhood, it is a process that needs to be continued throughout your dog’s life. Major and minor events in our lives shape our personality and attitudes; likewise our dog’s character is influenced by events that occur throughout its life.

At some point in your dog’s life, it will have an unpleasant experience. You need to ensure that pleasant, positive experiences greatly outnumber any negative ones to ensure that your dog remains a balanced and composed member of your family.