Socialisation, I am sure you have heard about it.
Do you know what it means?
Do you know what you have to do?
Do you know what to include?
Most people think that socialisation means letting your puppy meet other dogs and people, but it is so much more than that.
By other dogs, it means not just your own other dogs, but a variety of other dogs outside of your home. Your dog is able to play politely, if it plays, and not barge in, bowling the other dogs over, or not be terrified of other dogs. And then comes back when called straight away.
As far as people are concerned, your dog should be polite, not jump or bark (unless given permission), not shy away or barge into them. It shouldn’t matter what they wear or whether they have a beard or not.
Think about, trousers, long dresses/robes, turbans, umbrellas, glasses, males, female, children, running, walking, riding a bike, pushing a pram, wheelchairs, mobility scooters, skateboards.
Situations and Surfaces
What about situations and surfaces? What are you going to want to do with your dog during its lifetime, where are you likely to take it?
Consider trains, lifts, metal and wooden surfaces, bridges (under and over), café’s, pubs, boats, buses, cars, beaches, town centres, stations.
And finally, Sounds
And then there are sounds. Your puppy needs to get used to as many different sounds as possible. Having a dog that is terrified of fireworks or crop scarers is not easy to live with and certainly very stressful for your dog.
Deal with the noises early on, within the first few weeks if possible.
The more your breeder does, as long as it has been done well, will be a bonus. There is quite a big push now for breeders to do more and many breeders are now providing a variety of different surfaces, noises, situations, and objects whilst they are growing. It is always worth asking your breeder what they have done in this respect and how many people they have met, especially men and children.
When you should start
You HAVE to start as soon as you bring your puppy home because there is a small window of opportunity that is generally thought to close down by the time they are 16 weeks old, some have even suggested that some breeds shut this period down even earlier, but that is a discussion for another day.
You want your puppy to have a nice experience of as many things as possible in that window. If your puppy doesn’t see something, he may decide that they are scary things and either shy away from it or go to the other extreme that says ‘I’ll attack you before you get to me’ which is known as fearful aggression. Not all dogs will do this though, but how will you know if your dog won’t until it’s too late?
The Bad News
By the way, your puppy will go through another stage like this somewhere around 10 months.
Trainers can get it wrong too
Us trainers don’t always get it right either! I have always lived in villages, but recently moved close to a Town Centre where there were people of a variety of nationalities and wearing lots of different types of clothing.
I thought my dogs were ok, but I found out how wrong I was one Sunday morning when I took my two big boys out early one morning. We had only gone a little way when a car pulled up next to us, and a young girl got out dressed in robes, from head to foot. My boys weren’t so keen on that and let us all know. I then had to spend some time on them separately getting them used to everything around us.
So you have got your puppy, what are your choices for socialisation?
Typically there are 4:
- Vets – puppy socialisation courses
- Training clubs and schools – with their puppy classes or
- Doggie day care – some will take them from a puppy, I did, but I was very careful with them.
- Do nothing and hope.
However, now there is a 5th choice. You can work with a dog trainer who knows how to help dogs develop good manners and behaviours around people and dogs.
Why I think traditional options for socialisation are a contributing factor in the increase of aggression
Let me tell you why I believe that the traditional options are a major contributing cause for the increase in aggression in some dogs.
The number of people taken to hospital due to dog bites has risen by 76% in the 10 years to August 2014 and they went up by 6.5% in the year to Feb 2015. Remember these are only the ones taken to hospital.
Socialisation was supposed to stop the badly behaved and aggressive dogs. So why have the numbers of hospitalised dog bites increased?
Where it all started
Dr Ian Dunbar started it all in the early 1980s, he was revolutionary and gradually he made a massive impact and changed dog training in the UK and other countries around the world. This was a major step forward.
Puppy socialisation came to the front and over time many schools and veterinary practices have implemented puppy socialisation classes.
What we got
My experience and what many other people have experienced is that rarely is there any thought given to what the puppy learns if he is allowed to bully all the other puppies. The other puppies will join in, What will they get from that?
And what about the nervous one? The poor thing is terrified and is just plonked into the middle of the fray in a sink or swim way. Only for him to get mown down by the class bullies and the other dogs wanting to join in the fun.
It’s like being terrified of heights and someone making you walk on a glass floor a couple of stories up and the glass cracks whilst you are in the middle.
So now the super confident puppy has learnt that it is ok to railroad other puppies and if he is lucky other dogs will join in. The dog you crash into will likely roll over or run away. But, either way, it’s good fun.
The nervous puppy has been traumatised and will either always try to avoid being that situation for the rest of its life or it will develop an ‘it’s me or you’ attitude and attack first so that the other dog doesn’t get the chance. This is called ‘fear aggression’.
Now it’s time to up our game, take the next step.
Not all clubs and vets are the same
Now I know there are many places out there, who manage the situation extremely well and some are much better than this, but there are many that do not.
Most owners have no idea what they are letting themselves in for. They just do not have that knowledge and many trainers haven’t thought about it.
The same happens with people, some dogs are not stopped and are encouraged/allowed to get too excited with people.
The nervous ones are just forced to deal with this strange person reaching their hand, like a big scary spider, over the top of their head and they just can’t get away.
Or they are crowded by people and children and their frantic body language telling us they are too scared is totally ignored.
No-one is helping them. That comes later, if they are lucky.
If they are not so lucky, they get re-homed because they are unpredictable or aggressive and sometimes they are just put to sleep.
In most cases, we humans have caused the problem and it’s about time we stopped.
Go and find yourself a trainer who understands and recognises what poorly thought out and poorly managed socialisation can do and knows how to introduce your precious puppy to the world. One who can tell you how to recognise when your puppy is not so happy with what is happening.
If your dog has experienced this, many trainers know how to help your dog learn how to cope without lunging and barking at everything it sees. Go and find one but walk away quickly if they want to use water spray, rattle bottles, pet corrector, shock collars, prong collars or attention turns. These are old methods that work on punishment for your dog trying to do what it feels he has to do to protect himself.
Can I help?
My 12 week Puppy Steps Foundation Plan includes managed socialisation as standard and as I come to you, we practise it in the areas you will be going with your puppy.
If you have a question about how to socialise your puppy, you can book a short free call (SKYPE) with me to see if I can help.
Remember to have some fun with your dog.
Karen – Peaceful Pups