Puppies and Socialization: New Study Reveals What’s the Impact

For the first time animal behaviour experts from The Guide Dogs for the Blind association have developed the puppies socialization programme, which reveals the long-lasting results on the puppies.


The programme proves that gentle socialisation games and exercises help make puppies more confident, and better guide dogs.


Dr. Helen Whiteside, Guide Dogs UK’s behavioural expert and lead researcher on the study, says:


“While we have always known the value of early socialisation, for the first time we have a specific program of exercises that mirrors the puppies’ physiological and behavioural development and is proven to have an improved and lasting impact on behavior”.


The socialisation programme includes exercises tailored for each week of a puppy’s early development:


“The exercises include gentle stroking, playing with toys, holding the puppy against different materials, exposure to sounds such as mobile phones, walking on different surfaces and climbing over obstacles. Part of this important training even includes an introduction hats and umbrellas”, describes Dr. Helen Whiteside.



Dr. Helen Whiteside has been working at Guide Dogs for 5 years in the Canine Research Department. She says that this programme is very important, because it is designed to provide a highly effective socialisation experience for puppies that is low cost, quick and easy to complete.

Also, the interesting thing is that the programme is applicable not only to the guide dogs, but also to pet dogs, working dogs and other assistance dogs. So anyone who has a dog can benefit from the programme results.


How the results were achieved?

The programme was created and assessed at the Guide Dogs’ national breeding centre, located just outside the Leamington Spa. The study was assessed by evaluating the six litters of puppies, under standardised conditions:


“Each litter was divided into two groups, with one group receiving the centre’s existing basic socialisation practices, while the other group received the new enhanced socialisation program. The puppies were then reviewed at six weeks old and eight months old”, described Dr. Helen Whiteside.


The puppies were assessed for:

  • animal chase
  • attachment
  • body sensitivity
  • distractibility
  • energy
  • excitability
  • general anxiety
  • separation anxiety
  • trainability


Results revealed that at the six-week assessment, puppies receiving the new program had significantly more favourable scores, such as improved responsiveness towards humans and increased confidence within their environment.


“The impact was also long-lasting: at the eight-month assessment those puppies had significantly more desirable separation related behaviour, general anxiety, body sensitivity and distraction scores. Dogs with these behaviour traits are known to have much better success rates once they enter the guide dog training program”, explained Dr. Helen Whiteside.



What are the realities of sight loss?

Having more and better Guide Dogs is crucial because every day 100 people in the UK start to lose their sight. It is predicted that by 2050 the number of people with sight loss in the UK will double to nearly four million (The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association 2017).


Also, almost half of blind and partially sighted people feel ”moderately” or ”completely” cut off from people and things around them. So, it’s very important to make sure they don’t lose out on life by training more Guide Dogs.


Other finding by RNIB, JSNA report 2017, show that: over 90 per cent of all JSNAs in the West Midlands contain little or no information on sight loss.


So sight loss prevention is a clear public health priority, because worryingly over 50 per cent of sight loss in the UK could be avoided by understanding the needs of the local population and its resources.



How can you get involved?

There are so many great ways you could help change lives by getting involved, such as:

  • Fundraise at home, school, work or in your local community.
  • Host a Great Guide Dogs Tea Party.
  • Take on a Guide Dogs challenge event.
  • Join a Dogs Unite sponsored dog walk.
  • Make a regular or one-off donation.
  • Sponsor a Puppy.
  • Leave a gift in your Will

(The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association 2017)


Emer Scott-Baird, who is a member of Coventry Guide Dog volunteer group, explains what it is like to volunteer for the Guide Dogs UK:


“As a fundraising volunteer, I spend time collecting money at events, fetes, supermarkets; also, running raffles and tombolas. There are no specific times for this role and I can do as much or as little as I have time for in my spare time”.


He adds that there are various other roles to take on, such as speakers about the guide dogs, puppy walkers, breeding stock carers homing brood bitches and stud dogs.


“Within the fundraising group, people also take on roles of organising events, selling trade, arranging collection boxes to be placed in businesses and emptied regularly. Those roles take a varying amount of time and commitment”, expands Emer Scott-Baird.


If you are local – Coventry is always looking for more help.


Why it’s important to volunteer?

Guide Dogs is the largest breeder and trainer of working dogs in the world, by volunteering for them and by raising just £35 you could help them to keep a Guide Dog partnership moving for a week !


More importantly, you wouldn’t only raise money for them, you would also raise and gain your own karma points and could spend time with the most lovely creatures on the Earth – doggies, making a huge difference for the blind people at the same time.


Local Coventry’s fundraising volunteer, Emer Scott-Baird, re-assures that this experience is super exciting and rewarding, saying:


“I get an immense amount of pleasure and pride in volunteering for guide dogs. I feel like I can really make a difference and help people. For me it’s important as I get to help to raise funds to support the guide dogs to allow the dogs to support blind and visually impaired people to have freedom and independence”.


If you want to get that pleasant experience and change someone’s life, or are just interested to find more information about guide dog training or volunteering for the charity, please visit: www.guidedogs.org.uk/supportus

Alternatively, contact Guide Dogs UK or your local branch directly.



Berta Balsyte



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.