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It is very important to puppy’s emotional and cognitive development that they are given a range of experiences, including exposure to different environments, between 8 and 12 weeks bearing in mind the fear period. You can never revisit this developmental stage and it is vital that they are given opportunities to familiarise themselves with the world around them. There are many ways you can do this safely, prior to completion of their vaccinations.
Here are some ideas, that are described in more detail later:
Play different sounds in the background while your puppy is eating their daily meals. Youtube have lots of sounds that you can choose from. Cars, dogs barking, children playing, hoover, fireworks etc.
Carry Walks - you can carry puppy, either in your arms or in a specially designed carry pouch, for a short walk.
In a Crate - you can purchase puppy carry crates that you can carry them around in
safely or you can take them in a vehicle to different places and have them watch the
world from their calm place, experiencing different sounds, sights and smells.
On your ‘Chill Out Mat’ - this is where puppy relaxes, sharing a mat with you, so they
are not on the ground. Start in quiet locations with only a few stimulus in the background and build to busy locations but at a safe distance.
During your puppy's meal times play some sounds to help your puppy get familiarised with the world. Start at a low volume then gradually turn the volume up to a normal level as the weeks go on. Play different day to day sounds that your puppy will encounter to help them pair scary noises with tasty food.
Before taking puppy on a familiarisation walk, there are some rules to consider ensuring the experiences are successful. These points are:
Puppy needs to be well rested, so that they are ready to take on board new experiences.
Puppy should be hungry, so that they are interested in you and what you have to offer, meaning that you can help to regulate their emotional responses.
Have cooked chicken with you as puppy will need high value treats. This allows you to be a better judge of where their emotions are as they will stop eating when too worried. Lower value food or their regular diet may not be appealing at all when in new environments dependant on your puppy’s food motivation. Marking and feeding when looking at an environmental stimulus will have a greater impact on emotional responses than lower value food and will also provide a better distraction if you accidentally get too close to new stimuli.
Keep stimuli at safe distances, being led by puppy’s body language. Remember, to begin with you are getting reference points for future experiences, so just note sights, sounds or smells that puppy is seeing and what the responses are.
Take it at puppy’s pace, making sure the experience is a positive one, rather than something to endure.
Start at 1-2 minutes and build gradually. Judge the duration of any experience that puppy has and watch the feedback they are giving you carefully. Although this may start at only a few minutes, it will vary depending on what is happening in the environment. The most effective learning takes place in the first 15 minutes, so this should be the maximum length you are building towards. Always shorten the session if puppy has encountered a few novel, or particularly exhilarating, situations.
METHODS FOR EARLY FAMILIARISATION
As stated earlier, this is a walk where the puppy is carried. It is important that you think carefully about where you go for a carry walk to ensure that puppy is not instantly overwhelmed by the environment. If you live in a quiet street, then you are lucky enough to be able to walk straight from your house. If the road outside your house is busy though, your first walks could be just going out of the door and observing for a few minutes before going back inside. You can also travel with puppy to close by destinations, such as a park, firstly observing from the safety of the car, building up to a carry walk when puppy is comfortable with the setting.
IN THE CRATE
Travel to different places, such as a park or supermarket car park, then I give your puppy a stuffed Kong or chew on as they watch the world go by. This is a fantastic way of getting the puppies used to new sights, sounds and smells.
Take puppy in the car, either on someone's lap or in a carry crate on the front seat, where puppy can see you. Remember the rules, puppy needs to have had a sleep and be ready for some food. You have also thought about where you are going and chosen a location where puppy will see new sounds, sights and smells. When arriving at your destination, transfer puppy, in their crate, to the open boot of the car, give them their bone, or food-based toy, and sit beside them. People may come over, but puppy is in the safety of the crate and can get exposed to you chatting and interacting with people without being smothered and overwhelmed by strangers’ greetings.
CHILL OUTON A MAT
Build up your ‘Carry Walks’ in your chosen area where you feel there is a good space for you to do some ‘Chill Out Time’ experiences. Carry puppy to a sensible distance from an identified stimulus, such as children playing in the playground, and layout picnic blanket or mat. Sit on the mat with puppy with the chosen distraction or stimuli in the background. Select a suitable calming item from the bag, such as the ‘Liki Mat’, to give puppy. Let pup calmly watch the world go by while settling on the mat. Don't spend more than 15 minutes there.