Socialising a litter

It’s really important that puppies not only relate well to humans, but also to other animals. Furthermore, they need to get used to the environments in which they are to live. The breeder plays a very important part in this early stimulus and how well puppies are socialised will determine their success not only as pets, but also as show or working dogs.


By changing how puppies are kept from birth until they go to new homes, you can have a tremendous impact on their future lives. From about three weeks of age, puppies will approach anything or anybody willingly and without fear. However, by the time they reach 12-14 weeks, anything new will be approached with caution and trepidation. Therefore, the critical time for meeting people and other animals and getting a puppy used to its environment is between three to 12 weeks of age.

Puppies usually go to new homes from the age of six to eight weeks, so three to five weeks is critical in terms of socialisation and during this time, the puppy needs continual stimulus, but the socialisation needs to be practical, held in a safe, friendly environment which is not unnaturally quiet. It is best to try and keep the mother present during socialisation, particularly if she is friendly and confident.

Weeks one to three
  • Puppy will be with dam and siblings, but should experience human scent (both male and female) at a very early stage.
  • Pick up and hold each puppy gently every day.
    Stroke and examine all over.
Week four onwards
  • All environmental stimuli should be interesting and non-threatening to the pup. You should expose the puppy to household noises (washing machine, vacuum, TV, etc). There is a socialisation chart and sound CD available from MSD Animal Health.
  • Handle the puppy individually each day.
  • Introduce novel objects to the puppies on a daily basis and introduce cloths with different smells.
  • Provide obvious sleeping place with easy access to toilet area.
What’s new in weeks four to five
  • Arrange for new adults and children to visit
  • Allow for 3-4 sessions / day, for a few minutes each session.
  • Increase these sessions to at least 10 minutes each time as they get older.
  • If a puppy gets to know about 10 people of all ages really well before they go to a new home, they should be happy in the company of most people later in life.
  • Introduce cats and other animals on the property.
  • Carry them individually to the road to see traffic.
  • Give them the opportunity to explore new surfaces.
  • Teach the puppies to play with toys.
  • Familiarise with one-to-one handling with gentle restraint until accepted.
  • Familiarise with collars and leads.
  • Trim the nails occasionally and provide items to chew.
  • Introduce individual isolation in view of others for a few minutes each time.
What’s new in five weeks onwards
  • Take out to meet other people – aim for 30 minutes per puppy per day with other people by the time they are ready to go to their new homes.
  • Introduce short car journeys
  • Introduce simple training using reward-based methods and get them used to the lead.
  • Short periods of isolation for each puppy.
  • More individual outings as they get older.
  • Take out at appropriate times for toilet training.

In terms of different experiences, try to aim for at least one new experience every day and gradually include these so they become familiar with a wide range of different scents, sights and sounds. Choose places where they will encounter different types of people, eg: an old people’s home or a school or even a veterinary surgery. In addition, move the whelping box to a different room or area about three times during this early period.

Above all, make sure you keep the experiences positive, all encounters should be enjoyable for the puppy and try to plan ahead so unpleasant events are avoided. Also, arrange for all encounters to be successful and rewarding. Never overwhelm puppies with too much at once and allow them plenty of time for sleep and rest in-between in encounter.

Finally, some puppies do have special needs as some breeds are more sensitive and reactive than others and look out for those in the litter that are smaller or shier than the rest.