Socialisation and fear of the vet

Puppy socialisation

The critical socialisation and habituation period for puppies begins at around four weeks of age, while they are still with their mum, and continues until about four months of age. During this period they learn about the world around them and how to react to situations, people and animals that they encounter. 

This time is very important in a puppy’s development as it shapes how they cope with and adapt to everyday and new experiences as an adult. A well-socialised puppy is more likely to be happy, confident and able to tackle new or negative experiences later on. 

Puppy socialisation traditionally focuses on introducing puppies to: new people, other dogs and animals, sights, smells and sounds, travelling in the car, being left alone etc. This is done in a gradual and controlled way, ensuring lots of positive experiences.  

As well as our efforts at socialisation, there is also a genetic component to dog behaviour. The temperaments of a puppy’s relatives and their breed traits can tell us things like how resilient or fearful the puppy is likely to be, and which areas they might need extra support and training in. 

For older dogs or rescue dogs, fearful behaviours may already be present. They may have had negative experiences, a lack of early socialisation or be naturally inclined to be fearful. For these dogs a careful desensitisation program and lots of positive reinforcement can help them to overcome their worries.

From a veterinary perspective, there are many things we expect of dogs when they visit us that can be worrisome or intimidating. We want your dog to be happy and confident when they come to the practice – but sometimes we do need to poke and prod for the sake of their health! Early habituation to these things can help to prevent your dog becoming fearful of the vet later on. 

Things you can introduce to your dog to at home, or by calling ahead and visiting your veterinary practice, include:
•    Being gently held and restrained around the body and across their chest
•    Touching and holding the collar
•    Picking up and holding the feet
•    Touching and examining the ears, eyes and mouth
•    Getting used to the smells, sights and sounds of the waiting room

Please try to pair each of these activities with something positive - for example, their favourite treat or toy. Together we can help to provide a fear-free experience when you visit the vet.