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Socialising your puppy – a guide to visiting new places

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Visiting new places is a key part of any puppy or dog’s socialisation. Helping them to experience new and different places when they are young can really help to build your dog’s confidence and adaptability, enabling you both to enjoy days out together.   
 
At Dogs for Good, all our pups are socialised with a volunteer family until they are around 14-16 months old.  Our volunteers spend lots of time taking our pups to different environments and practicing obedience in those places. As working assistance dogs they will visit many different places with their partners, so building positive experiences for them in their early life is essential.  While your puppy won’t need to be trained to the same level as an assistance dog, helping them to feel confident and have good general obedience in public places will ensure a day out will be much less stressful for your both.   
 
As with anything that you teach your dog, the key thing to remember is to break down training into small steps.  This allows your dog to process what they learn and ensure they don’t get overwhelmed with too many different sights, sounds and smells all at once.  Getting to know your dog’s body language, will really help you to understand if they’re finding something stressful.  You can then put steps in place to make sure you support them and help you both prepare for visits out and about in the future.  

Managing your puppy’s first visits out  

Most puppies will receive their first vaccinations when they’re eight to ten weeks old with a follow-up second vaccine at 10 -12 weeks.  But it’s recommended that you don’t take your puppy into public spaces for a further couple of weeks to ensure they have full immunity after their vaccines.  Different vaccines vary, so ask your vet what they recommend.  

At this age, everything is brand new for them and you can start to get them used to different sounds around the home.  You can also introduce your puppy to new things by carrying them.  A fully-enclosed garden can be a great place for your puppy to start exploring and will help ease them into learning about the world around them.  The garden is also a great place to start a puppy getting used to a lead and harness.   

Your puppy’s first trip outside the home  

Once your puppy is fully vaccinated, you can start to think about some short trips outside, but don’t rush… taking things too quickly may have a negative impact later down the line, so it’s important to take things at a pace that is right for your pup.  If they seem to be finding something too difficult, go back a stage and build up their confidence again and retry when they’re ready.  Every pup is unique and it’s important to be led by them.   

Starting with walks just outside your home will help familiarise your puppy with the outside world.  Allow them time to sniff and explore their surroundings – sniffing is an important part of a pup’s processing and helps them learn and manage their stress.   

Give your puppy lots of praise and treats when they check in with you and keep each session quite short.  This is also a good opportunity to practice some obedience; seeing how they cope with a training cue when there are other distractions will help you to see how much your puppy has already learnt and giving them simple cues will also help them to stay focussed on you. 

As your puppy grows and is able to go on longer walks – it’s recommended that around five minutes of gentle exercise per month of age is a safe guide to follow for pups up to a year old – and becomes used to walking on the lead, you can start to also introduce visits to different places. Don’t try to do too much to start off with as it could be overwhelming for them and don’t assume that because you’ve done something similar before they’ll be able to cope with it somewhere else.  Just because your puppy isn’t bothered by the statue at the end of the road, it doesn’t mean to say that he or she’s not going to find a statue they come across in a town square a bit frightening.  New places are potentially a lot more exciting for them, with different sights, smells and people who may want to greet them. Take lots of high reward treats with you so you can give positive reinforcement to your puppy and remember, it may take a few visits before your puppy feels really comfortable. 

When you come across something new or if they appear unsure, try just pausing and giving your pup lots of treats and verbal encouragement to help them build a positive association.  If they’re still unsure or back away, take them a small distance back until they look more relaxed and continue with lots of positive praise. If they are still finding something difficult even when you’ve moved away, don’t try to force anything. It’s far better to leave than overwhelm your puppy with a negative experience.  

Taking your puppy for longer day trips  

If you’re planning to be out for more than a couple of hours, it’s worth preparing a bag of things you might need for your dog while you’re out.  Here’s just a few things you may want to include:  

  • Poo bags 
  • Travel water bowl and a bottle of water 
  • Towel to wipe down muddy feet if you’re taking your dog into a building 
  • Blanket or something comfy for your dog to sit on 
  • Treats 
  • Chew toy or Kong  
  • Dog poo waste carrier (in case there are no poo bins)  

Check the weather forecast before you go. Dogs can suffer from heat stroke when the temperature rises to 23 C or more, so we’d recommend not taking your dog out if it’s too warm

If you’re travelling by car, read our tips on travelling with your dog to ensure your journey is as stress free as possible.  

As with little children, young dogs are still growing so it’s important to adjust the amount of exercise they get to their age. Over walking your puppy could lead to arthritis or injury later in their life. A general rule of thumb is five minutes of gentle exercise per month of age; three months old = 15 minutes, four months old = 20 minutes and so on. 

Helping your dog to settle in a café or pub 

Once you’re confident that your dog can cope in different environments on a walk, you may be thinking about extending your trip to be able to include stopping for a drink or bite to eat in a dog-friendly café or pub.   

Again, the key is to start slowly and build up the length of time of your visit. There are likely to be lots of great smells and people who want to say hello; in short, a lot to distract a young puppy!  Don’t forget to make sure your puppy has had a chance to toilet before you go out and take a comfy blanket for them to snuggle on.  Pack a travel water bowl and if they like to chew, some long-lasting chews are a great way to help them relax while you enjoy your food.   

Common problems when visiting new places with your puppy  

Many dogs really enjoy new places to explore with fresh smells and places to free run, but other dogs can find it stressful.  Any problems you encounter on regular walks are likely to be amplified on a longer day out and will potentially be really overwhelming for your dog. So, before you head out for a trip, think about what your dog finds most difficult when you’re going on a walk.  For example, if your dog struggles with high levels of dog distraction when on a lead or really doesn’t like places that are busy or with lots of noise, it may be best not to take your dog with you or think about quieter times of day to make your trip.  

While for puppies everything is new, if you have taken on an older dog or haven’t taken your dog out for the day for a while, consider doing a few practice sessions of being out in busier places before your planned visit.  Just as with puppies, practicing some general obedience when you have time to really concentrate on your dog and what they’re doing will help you confidently manage any new things you encounter on a trip out.  

Now, go and enjoy some time with your four-legged friend! 

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