Cockapoo puppies need to meet a range of different people during their ‘socialisation period’ (between about 3 and 12 weeks of age) to ensure that they accept contact with people as a normal and positive part of life. During this period, puppies learn what is ‘normal’ in their environment and what to expect in different circumstances.
It is therefore important for all puppies to learn that contact with all sorts of different people is a normal part of life. They also need to learn about the various types of interaction that people have with dogs. For example, they need to accept being handled all over, picked up, their feet being handled and cleaned, ears examined, coat groomed, and nails cut. They also need to learn about the various things that people do, for example, coming in and out of the house / kennel area. They also need to learn that sometimes people interact and play, but at other times they may be present but not interacting with them.
The aim of a structured socialisation program is to give puppies the best chance of coping well with the various types of people, circumstances in which they appear, and ways in which they interact with dogs, before they are homed to a domestic environment. In order to ensure they develop a positive perception of people, it is important for the introduction of new experiences to be gradual and controlled. It is also important that puppies are not already anxious or fearful when they interact with people, as this will increase the risk that they will associate human contact with a negative experience.
- Plan in advance how you will ensure that puppies experience different types of people. All puppies should have contact with a minimum of four people. This should include at least one person of each gender. It should also include at least one person who is above retirement age. Puppies should also experience controlled contact with children. Ideally this should include at least one older child ( 8 years +), and also a baby or toddler
- For safety, children should only have contact with puppies under the supervision of their parents or responsible adult. Where access to young children is not feasible, puppies should be exposed to the noises of babies and young children using good quality recordings
- Prepare in advance any items which will help broaden puppies’ experience of people. For example, having a brightly coloured and rustling jacket (as worn by postmen or delivery people), a motorcycle helmet, a cap, a back-pack, a pushchair, a zimmer frame and an umbrella available will mean that puppies can people engaged in socialising the puppies can introduce puppies to items that they will commonly see associated with people as adults
Before you start
- Make sure the puppy is in a place he / she knows well
- Have plenty of toys and treats
- You should be able to recognise signs of anxiety in a puppy before starting the socialisation sessions, so you can withdraw if the experiences you are introducing to the puppy cause him/her to be frightened
Socialisation to different types of people
- Puppies should be familiar and confident with their main carer before the introduction of further people. This person should spend time playing and interacting with puppies until all of the puppies in the litter approach the carer voluntarily on entering the kennel / room. Where individual puppies show signs of fear or anxiety, such as cowering at the back of the pen, moving away, trembling, or pulling back on contact, they should be given additional attention. This should involve the carer being quiet and calm, crouching or sitting a short distance away from the puppy and encouraging the puppy to approach.
- Approaches should be rewarded with food treats. Interaction with nervous puppies should develop with gentle stroking on the chest area: avoid putting the hand directly towards the puppy’s head as this may be perceived as threatening. With increased confidence, the puppy can be gradually stroked on the shoulder, back, flanks and head
- Once all puppies in a litter confidently approach and interact with their main carer, a program of introduction to other people can be started. Puppies’ response to the introduction of one other person should be evaluated first. Signs of fear or anxiety in individual puppies should be addressed by the main carer. Once puppies confidently interact with the second person, further new people can be introduced. These should include adults of both gender
- When puppies are confidently interacting with a number of adults in a familiar environment, they can be introduced to people in different circumstances. For example they should experience people coming and going through a threshold (e.g. door in a household), and meeting people when they are in an outside garden or run
- The socialisation program can then be expanded to include contact with children where possible. Older children can interact with puppies, but should be instructed how to appropriately handle and play with puppies before the interaction begins. Contact with children should be supervised at all times to prevent the occurrence of negative experiences for either puppies or children. Where younger children or babies are introduced to puppies, they should be held by their parents. Should direct contact with children not be impossible, puppies should experience the range of noises made by babies and children through use of a good quality sound recording
- Puppies should be given additional experience about the variation in the ways people might appear to them through the use of ‘props’. For example people can interact with the puppies wearing a florescent jacket, motorcycle helmet or backpack. They can also walk past the puppies using a ‘zimmer frame’ or pushing a push chair or trolley. These experiences will help puppies to learn that all these variations of how people appear are a normal part of life.
Many dog owners will think a puppy socialisation program is extravagant and not worth the time spent. It’s up to the individual how in-depth they want to make the program but at at the least, remember to introduce your puppy to people, noises, props, and new environments carefully and remember you have a delicate sentient being to nurture into the a very scary world!