You will hear the word ‘socialisation’ often spoken by dog owners, enthusiasts, and professionals alike, but what does it really mean?
When raising a puppy you might hear the word repeated often without any true appreciation or understanding of its significance. For a long time now we have been told that we must socialise our puppies at the earliest opportunity and introduce them to all other dogs so that they might become tolerant of all dogs. This in part is true, but this approach does not explain socialisation in its truest sense or properly suggest how such socialisation should take place.
Mismanaged interactions may have negative consequences and lead to the development of behavioural problems later in life, whilst a lack of early socialisation can equally bring about similar complex problems.
How we define dog socialisation at TWOTD?
The Way of the Dog holds the view that socialisation is the purposeful act of familiarising puppies and dogs to the environment in which they live, occupy, or visit so that the animal acts in a way that is considered acceptable.
It is important that dogs become familiar with sensations, actions, objects, and living things within a variety of different environments or circumstances. Failure to introduce the dog to such things may lead to the dog demonstrating a reluctance to approach or accept unfamiliar situations and develop ways to avoid or escape them; this might include strategies that involve aggression.
The primary socialisation period for a young dog is considered to be from 3 – 12 weeks old, and is the most important period of social development. This is why it is absolutely essential to choose very carefully where you obtain your puppy. A reputable and ethical breeder will likely commence socialisation as soon as the 3 week point is reached.
Puppy socialisation by TWOTD
If a puppy is not correctly socialised during the early sensitive periods there is a possibility that a dog will never adjust to or accept novel events later in life. It is therefore essential that time and effort is taken to appropriately socialise a puppy to as many events as possible. The Way of the Dog takes this role very seriously and delivers bespoke puppy development courses that focus on properly managed socialisation whilst developing confidence and shaping character.
- Socialisation should always be carefully managed and not delivered randomly or without any consideration to how a particular dog may react.
- Dogs can be bold or cautious, weak or strong; they may dive in to a situation without hesitation or demonstrate much reluctance, they are all very different even at such an early stage.
- Puppies should always be carefully introduced to other puppies and caution should always be exercised when introducing them to adult dogs.
- Enrolling a puppy in a group puppy class is not always the best approach to socialisation as a mismanaged class can be responsible for the development of fearful or aggressive temperaments if the puppy is subjected to negative experiences.
Commit to thorough socialisation of your dog
Social maturity and development continues through to the 18 – 24 month point depending upon the individual dog. It is possible that a dog can become unusually sensitive to any event or circumstance during this period. Puppies considered to be socialised during their early months may suddenly develop what seem like irrational fears towards events that at one time caused them no concern. Therefore, socialisation should always be carefully managed and maintained during the first year of a dog’s life and owners should consider sustaining such approaches beyond until a dog is considered to be a well-adjusted adult.
If you’d like to enrol your new dog on one of our bespoke Puppy Development Courses, please Contact Shaun today.
Earlier this year I arrived home and found a note attached to my door. The note was a plea for help and a request to contact the owner of a one year old Welsh Terrier called ‘Bailey’. I immediately contacted the owner and arranged a meeting.
I met a lovely lady who was very distressed and at her wits end, ‘Bailey’ had been punishing her and inflicting nasty bites. What surprised me was the fact that I knew this little dog and had no idea of the double life it was leading. I had encountered her whilst out with my own dogs. The dog that I had observed was a pleasant and confident dog, albeit one that was noticeably very independent. However, I had no idea what was occurring behind the scenes.
Following an initial consultation with the owner it soon became apparent that this was a situation whereby a dog was controlling the environment and more significantly the owner through physical force and aggression. The owner had reached a crossroads and had no idea which way to turn. This was further complicated by the actions of the dog walker and also guidance provided by a local trainer.
The dog walker held the view that all dogs should know their place and be put there physically. Sadly, this is also still the view of many that operate in the dog industry; however there is a vast difference between calm effective leadership and physically forcing a dog into submission. This position was further exasperated by the actions of a local dog trainer, who provided advice, guidance, and instruction that resulted in an escalation of the dog’s aggressive temperament.
A clear lack of knowledge, experience, and professional training, resulted in extremely poor advice being given. The individual instructed the owner to tackle her dog’s display of aggression with a rolled up newspaper and charged her for the privilege of such outrageous advice. Using physical punishment to deal with a dog already learning to be aggressive is quite simply a recipe for disaster. Meeting aggression with aggression generally leads to one party getting injured and the intensification of behavioural problems.
This was a straight forward case of people misunderstanding how dogs learn and failing to recognise breed traits, if you fight a terrier there is a strong chance that it will fight back. After all they are game dogs that were bred to tackle, badgers, otters, foxes, and other creatures once considered vermin.
‘Bailey’ had simply learnt to defend herself against anything that she considered unpleasant. However, she had also become accustomed to redirecting her pent up aggression on her loving owner. She was being the dog that she was bred to be, fearless, bold, and game, but she was expressing her anger in the wrong direction and with significant consequences. When she became intolerant or bored she became feisty and attacked her owner. This was demonstrated through several unpleasant encounters that resulted in superficial injuries. The position was untenable, the relationship damaged beyond repair, and urgent action required.
The owner truly cared for ‘Bailey’, but sadly she was unable to meet the needs or control the demands of her terrier and it soon became apparent that a new home was the only likely successful outcome for this young dog. A new home would be a chance to start afresh with strong owners who understood the needs of the dog and more importantly could meet them.
Before attempting to find a new home the people who bred ‘Bailey’; were contacted. They formulated the opinion that the owner was too soft and should take a firm stance with ‘Bailey’. This opinion they formed without any observation or assessment. They also criticised the owner for seeking external support from The Way of the Dog, but then stated that they would euthanize ‘Bailey’ if she returned to her breeding home. The owner was heartbroken; she knew that she had to find a new home or continue to suffer the punishment from ‘Bailey’. She could not support the breeder’s views or their suggestions of euthanasia. She had tried her hardest to engage with ‘Bailey’, but the damage was done.
Notwithstanding all the unnecessary sadness, this case has ended well. I can happily report that some months on ‘Bailey’ lives in a new home with new owners and other dogs to provide her with guidance. The early days have not been without incident but she has slowly learnt to trust again and is progressing very well indeed. Her new owners manage her carefully reducing any opportunity for her to practice being aggressive.
They have taken ‘Bailey’ very much to their hearts and have provided a stable home and environment in which she can now flourish. Each week that passes is a step in the right direction and the new owners are committed to meeting ‘Bailey’s’ needs and maintaining a safe and structured environment. ‘Bailey’s’ former owner is delighted that ‘Bailey’ is now happy and safe.
From the many cases that I have dealt with the case of ‘Bailey’ epitomises the extent to which routinely treating a dog with physical force and punishment can lead to real and serious damage for both dog and owner. It also highlights the extent to which damage can be caused by enlisting the services of poor trainers.
Do people really understand what their dogs are communicating? Or is it that our human rationale takes over and we seek to excuse our dog’s poor communication and unruly behaviour with something we consider acceptable instead of the truth?
Here comes that dog again….
Regularly I encounter others out walking their dogs and more often than not their dogs are off the lead and enjoying being a dog. In some cases this poses no issue as the dog is extremely well behaved responding to their owner’s words and demonstrating balanced behaviour. These dogs are happy to engage in play and soak up the benefits that such mental stimulation will bring.
However, there are also numerous occasions where I encounter dogs that are not under control presenting as anti-social yet their owners justify their dog’s behaviour by those mortal words, “My dog just wants to play.”
My interpretation is often somewhat different, I see a dog that lacks discipline failing to respond to the owner’s words, and is seeking to threaten or intimidate by rushing or forcing itself upon the passing dog. The truth is that some dogs just don’t know how to play or communicate; they may be overly exuberant or unnecessarily forceful. They lack appropriate communication skills and do not take heed of subtle cues from the dog wanting to be left alone. They seek to forcefully inspect or interact with the dog with no interjection, supervision or leadership from their owner. This often leads to scuffles and over reactions.
Read the situation
Of course it is true that many dogs are happy to play and socialise, however there are rules to be considered:
- Are the owners happy for their dogs to interact?
- More importantly, do the dogs actually want to interact?
Dog owners should consider whether the oncoming dog is a potential play mate before allowing their own dog to rush ahead. If the oncoming dog is on the lead I would suggest that it is safe to say that there is a perfectly legitimate reason for this and perhaps the owner doesn’t want a dog to dog interaction. There is no requirement for all dogs to meet and greet when being exercised.
Not every dog wants to play with another dog, not every dog is comfortable with other dogs. There are many dogs that are poorly bred, lack appropriate socialisation training from birth, or simply lack the confidence and courage to be around other dogs due to a host of different reasons. Some dogs are not seeking to play, quite the opposite, they are seeking to create space and distance by rushing at the other dog because they are potentially fearful and lack certain confidence.
All people are different and I firmly believe that all dogs are different, we should consider this when we are out exercising our dogs and respect the space of fellow dog owners.
Have you ever considered that my dog doesn’t want to play?