Puppy socialisation and training

From the moment you get your pup home you need to set the standard for future behaviour.

Socialising your puppy

Your puppy's socialisation should have already begun before he came to you and this should continue. Socialisation is vital; it means getting him used to as many different sights, sounds, people, animals, and places as possible. With young pups who haven't had all their vaccinations, you can still acclimatise them to much of this while carrying them. When implementing socialisation plans, it’s not just a case of showing the puppy an item and then moving on. You need to make sure he’s accepted that it’s commonplace and not something to be fearful of. Start by introducing simple household items; your puppy should hopefully be familiar with these already so you are just reinforcing what he’s already learned.

The vacuum cleaner is a good item to start with as you can leave it around for the puppy to explore before it’s even switched on. Sit quietly with the puppy and get someone else to switch the vacuum cleaner on in the next room. Your puppy may look to you for a response to see how you react, so if you ignore the vacuum cleaner being switched on, he’s more likely to ignore it too. Distract him with a treat or a toy. Depending on the pup’s reactions, the vacuum cleaner can gradually be brought into the room with the puppy. Take note of your puppy’s response — any sign of nervousness and the vacuum should be taken further away, but not switched off, until he’s confident again.

Keep the sessions short — a couple of minutes is sufficient — before turning the cleaner off and rewarding the puppy with a game. Puppies learn by having fun so make sure the game is upbeat — if you pet him nervously he’ll assume there really is something out of the ordinary to take note of. The whole idea is to get the puppy used to the item and accept it as the norm. Repeat this process with other household items and visits to places.

Puppy socialisation classes can be helpful; make sure you do your research and pick one where the number of dogs are limited and introductions carefully controlled. Many veterinary surgeries run puppy socialisation classes so ask your vet about this. It's worth visiting a class without your pup to decide whether it's suitable.

House-training your puppy

House-training is one of the first things you should begin teaching your new pup. Young puppies should ideally go out to toilet every hour at first. As soon as he starts to go, say your chosen prompt word and reward him. Make sure you take him out first thing in the morning, after feeding, playtimes and other stimulating situations where he's likely to get excited, every time he wakes, and last thing at night. Before he arrives home, you could mark an area of the garden where you want your pup to toilet. Never punish your dog if he toilets inside the house.

Training your puppy

Once all his vaccinations are complete you can enrol your pup on to a puppy training class. Remember to go with a trainer who uses reward-based training methods. You can find one in your area on the recommendation of friends, relatives, or other owners, or by visiting the Your Dog website. There are lots of things you can practise at home including basic commands such as sit, down, and wait, teaching him his name, and how to walk on a lead. Click here to see more dog training articles.

It’s easy to train a puppy once you know how but it does take practice to perfect responses. A young puppy has a short attention span and gets tired very easily so lessons should be short and sweet. Aim for three-minute sessions and always end on a good response, going back to something your puppy has previously learned if necessary to ensure you finish on a positive note. This will encourage both of you to look forward to the next session. Try to fit in many of these short sessions during a day, doing a little bit here and there, rather than trying to squeeze all learning exercises into one long, exhausting lesson.

Place reward pots with treats and toys on shelves around the house so you can do a little training whenever you find you have a few minutes to spare — while the kettle is boiling, for example. Make sure you use reward-based training — this is where you reward your pup consistently for desirable behaviours and ignore undesirable ones.