As dog behaviourists we find that many of the problems which we see are caused by lack of socialisation as a puppy. Socialisation should begin with the breeder. Puppies should be handled regularly and habituated to normal household noises such as television, radio, washing machine, vacuum cleaner etc. You should ask the breeder what has been done to facilitate this.
Normally you should collect your puppy from the breeder at 7-8 weeks and continue this socialisation/habituation. Expose the puppy to as many new situations both indoors and outside, as possible. It is important to do this gradually so as not to cause fear. For example, start to introduce the puppy to traffic in a quiet street rather than a main road and then progress to busier areas. Puppies should be exposed to car journeys, railway stations, shopping areas, groups of children, other dogs, cats, town, country and as many new situations as possible. Remember, it is important to have your puppy vaccinated before exposure to communal areas.
Family, friends, neighbours and especially children (under supervision) should be encouraged to gently handle the puppy. It is good to introduce the puppy to people in uniform such as the postman.
The ideal period for socialisation ends at around 13 weeks although it is essential to continue after this period. Research has shown that continuing socialisation is essential for maintaining a calm and confident dog.
If you adopt an older dog, the same procedure needs to be followed but it is possible that fears will have developed. These need to be dealt with sensitively and carefully by a process of desensitisation. This will be discussed in a separate article.
Article written by Gill James & Martin Gleadow, K9 Solutions Dog Behaviour and Training.