I have a lovely 13-week-old Cockapoo puppy, but he is showing signs of nervousness in public. He trembles and backs away from people as they approach. What can you advise?
Nick Jones advises…
You don’t say how old your puppy was when you got him, but I’m asking the question because this tends to be one of the key elements in creating a confident, well-balanced puppy. The ideal age to acquire a puppy is eight weeks, so that you can gradually expose him to all of the things he is likely to experience in his normal daily life with you. This process is known as socialisation and habituation, and the sooner you are able to begin this, the better, as puppies are in a much more receptive state at this young age.
Another element is how he is reared in those first eight weeks with the breeder. It has been shown that puppies who are brought up in a home, with all the comings and goings of family life, and being exposed to various domestic sounds, are more confident and relaxed than puppies reared, for example, in secluded sheds at the bottom of a garden. Seeing the puppies with their mother is also important, so that you can assess whether she is a sociable, well-balanced dog herself. Don’t worry, however. All is by no means lost, but you need to make your puppy’s socialisation the strongest of priorities now.
I would encourage you to continue taking your dog to those locations you feel he can cope with, and make a point of exposing him to these places in a positive way, with plenty of high-value food to reward calm behaviour and an eye on increasing the intensity as he begins to settle down. Allow people to give him a treat and pet him, but keep these encounters short and positive, and don’t let the event become too intense for him. If you haven’t already, I would also enrol in a good puppy class with a trainer who uses only kind, force-free, reward-based methods, and teaches in a small group of no more than six puppies. Explain the problems you’re having, and I’m sure the trainer will be more than happy to offer further advice.
Thirteen weeks is still very young, and you will have many ongoing opportunities to introduce your puppy to the world. While socialisation is a relatively straightforward process, you could try researching the subject online for ideas on places to go and how to proceed. It can also be helpful to keep a diary and a ‘ticklist’ of the things he’s encountered, so that you can monitor your progress.