Socialising

By admin Posted in Basics, Puppy /

Socialising your pup is probably one of the best things you could ever do for him/her. Socialisation involves exposing your puppy to a wide variety of places and situations which he may encounter at some stage in his life and arranging for him to have as many positive experiences with humans and other canines as possible, so that pleasant associations can be built up with the outside world. It also involves protecting your pup from experiences which may be traumatic and cause emotional damage. A pup that is undersocialised may grow up to be afraid of a variety of things: people, dogs, noises, certain objects and new situations. As the dog matures this fear often develops into aggression as the dog attempts to protect himself from what he perceives to be a threat. Fear-aggression can make life miserable for both you and your dog and it is therefore essential to do all you can to prevent it from developing.

The optimum period for socialisation, ie. the time when your puppy is most receptive to new situations, is from about 3-12 weeks of age. At this stage in a pup’s life fear is not yet a dominant emotion and he will usually view the world around him with interest and curiosity. He will accept new situations, people and other dogs far more easily at this time and all good experiences will help to build the confidence and security needed to deal with life later on.

Initial socialisation begins in the litter. Here the pup learns important canine communication skills from interacting with his mother and siblings. For this reason pups should not leave their mothers until the age of at least 7 weeks. It is then up to us to continue our pups’ socialisation as soon as we bring them home. Unfortunately, final vaccinations are only given at 12 weeks, once the optimum period for socialisation is almost up, and most owners therefore leave their puppies at home during this time. It is important to understand, however, that there must be a balance between protecting the pup physically and protecting him emotionally and that some small risks with regards to immunisation may be worth having a mentally sound dog. Also, you can guard against your pup contracting diseases by carrying him when taking him out and by allowing him access to dogs that are known to be regularly vaccinated and disease-free.

If your pup is older than 12 weeks and you have not yet begun socialising him, do not despair. Although the optimum period may have passed, socialisation is by no means impossible. Dogs can continue to grow and learn their wholes lives given the right opportunities, as the owners of many rescued dogs will tell you. But do start right away, as dogs tend to become less receptive to new things once they reach maturity.

 

Practical socialisation: How to go about it

Dogs: Puppy socialisation classes are an excellent way for pups to learn to interact with other dogs. Here pups can enjoy playing freely with one another and at the same time learn the communication skills necessary for them to get on with dogs later in life. Beginners obedience classes are also a good idea, but make sure that the instructors advocate incentive training and not compulsive methods.

However, your pup needs to see other dogs more often than just once a week at his classes. It is important to take your dog to the beach or park where he has the opportunity to meet up with other dogs on neutral territory. Choose a place where dogs are allowed to go off-lead and where the majority of fellow dog walkers appear relaxed and at ease. Avoid dogs that are leashed, as this usually indicates that their owners don’t want them around other dogs for some reason, and allow your dog to approach and be approached by unleashed dogs. (If you are concerned that your pup may run away, keep him on a long rope, rather than a short leash.) Do not interfere when your pup is greeting another dog, but stand quietly to the side. It is important to remain calm, because if your pup senses that you are anxious he will believe that there is something to be afraid of. Many people are afraid of attacks by other dogs, but one must remember that it is very unusual for an adult dog to attack a puppy and that most fights between adult dogs are in fact triggered by interfering owners. Don’t allow your fear to deny your dog the opportunity to meet and play with a friend or even to be put in his place by a dog that wants nothing to do with him. Both will be good experiences, as a growl or snap from a tolerant older dog will teach him respect for his elders which may save him from trouble as he matures! (If necessary, ask a friend who is unafraid and who has more experience in handling dogs to accompany you on your initial outings.)

Humans: It is important to socialise pups to all sorts of humans; adults, children, babies, the elderly, men with uniforms or hats, those who are timid and those who are exuberant. To a dog, a baby may seem like a different species to an adult, while children are generally viewed with apprehension by dogs who are not brought up with them. It is also important that as pack leader you protect your pup from those who may frighten him. Your dog should feel safe under your care and learn to trust your judgement. People are often eager to pat or stroke a puppy and this certainly aids socialisation. However, some people may be unintentionally intimidating and it is important that you stop the interaction if you notice your pup looking uncomfortable. Do not be afraid to ask people to refrain from certain actions or suggest ways in which they can put your pup at ease. Sometimes it is best if the person you are introducing your pup to stands completely still and does not look at him. This gives your pup a chance to sniff and investigate the person on his own terms. One of the most threatening ways to greet dogs is to loom over them and pat them on their heads, but unfortunately it is what many people do. Encourage strangers to change their threatening posture by going down on their haunches a few feet away from your pup and slowly extending the back of their hand so that your pup is free to sniff them if he wishes. If you are not approached by people wanting to touch your pup, you will have to pluck up the courage to approach strangers and ask them to do so. Although you may get some funny looks, most people are very obliging when you explain what you are trying to achieve. (Remember to approach humans of all ages, shapes and sizes.)

Not all socialisation with regards to humans involves one-on-one interaction. Your dog needs to get used to groups of people and even crowds. Walking him regularly past a shopping centre will help with this, while allowing your pup to hear and see children in a playground will accustom him to the high pitched noises and strange movements peculiar to them. Always supervise interactions between children and your pup so that you can protect him from any cruelty and also correct him for any unwanted behaviours, such as biting limbs and tugging clothes, which children often cannot control.

Places, objects and noises: In order to have a well-socialised confident dog, it is important to take your pup to as many places as possible. When you go to the petrol station or pick up the kids from school take him along for the ride. Take him inside shops where dogs are allowed and walk him along a fairly busy road (always on a lead).Allow him to become familiar with traffic noises, echoing buildings, busy sidewalks, and large parked vehicles. The world is a noisy and busy place and a pup that is never let out of the sanctuary of his home will be unlikely to enjoy venturing out as an adult. Never react to signs of fear with either comfort or punishment. Comfort will teach your pup that it is good to be afraid, while punishment will increase anxiety and exacerbate the problem. The best thing to do when your pup gets nervous is to distract him with a game or easy training exercise and reward him for participating.

It is important to remember that all dogs are different. Some are naturally confident and resilient, while others are shy and nervous. It may take a lot longer for some to adjust to new things and it is important to have patience. Never force your pup to go somewhere or greet someone he doesn’t want to. If you continue to build on his positive experiences and let him see that you can be trusted, his confidence should grow and he should learn to cope with more and more.

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