Socialisation isn’t something that you should only consider during the critical period of a puppy’s development (chiefly between 8 and 14 weeks) Even if you’ve really done your homework during this time it is necessary to keep exposing your young dog to good positive experience to a vast number of environments,people, dogs etc.
What is socialisation?
Socialisation when it comes to dogs is a vast subject. A lot of people think that socialisation is all about letting their dog play with every dog they meet and letting their dog be handled/stroked by every person they meet. It’s a lot more complicated than it first appears and takes some thought, preparation and understanding of a dog’s body language to succeed and achieve your goal of a happy confident friendly adult dog.
The late Dr Sophia Yin produced a lot of free material about understanding a dog’s body language and you can find it here http://info.drsophiayin.com/free-poster-on-body-language-in-dogs/
A puppy’s first experience of another dog should be a pleasant experience, however a puppy’s play style is often quite boisterous and if they are constantly allowed to play in this rough way you could encounter problems later on. As with everything in live you need to strike a balance I prefer to use a 3 second rule where puppies are given a cue to “go say hello” I then let the puppies meet and after 3 seconds back away calling the puppy to me. In this way you manage the greeting so that it is calm and civilised thus teaching the puppy how he should greet other dogs in the future. You would ideally repeat this with a variety of breeds/ages of dogs as long as the dog you were introducing your puppy to was friendly. It is almost inevitable that you will come across an off lead dog at some point running up to your on lead puppy/young dog. Wherever possible try to avoid an off lead dog barging into your young dog’s space whilst it is on lead, you could try throwing some treats in the direction of the off lead dog to stop it in its tracks whilst you walk away from it. Try to keep calm in such a situation and keep your dog’s lead loose if you really feel your puppy is in danger of a nasty experience and they are small enough pick them up to protect them.
For every bad experience you will usually need a number of positive experiences to get your young dog back on track.
You do not want your dog to think he can say hello to every dog he meets so socialisation is also about learning to pay attention to their owners in the presence of other dogs. A lot of people think the best puppy socialisation/training class to go to is the class that has the most other puppies in it for their puppy to meet. This isn’t the case, most puppy training classes are held indoors so the puppies are immediately in close proximity to each other in a big class and this can cause stress. Stress is not conducive to learning and you ideally don’t want your puppy to associate new dogs/people/places with the emotional state stress causes.Like all training socialisation is about building layers and going at the individual puppy’s pace this means giving the puppy space and time to adjust to new things.
Different puppies progress at different speeds and a small class can give this extra space and time to the puppies that need it whilst keeping the more confident puppies from invading the space of the quieter ones.
Attending one course of puppy training is certainly more beneficial than not attending at all, but the most benefit would come from continuing to attend a good training class throughout your puppy’s adolescence to ensure they are at least once a week mixing with other dogs/people. In most cases you will be looking at at least a year of work to help your puppy become a well behaved good citizen in the busy society we live in today. Although this may seem a lot of effort to put in ,when you consider that your dog could be part of your family for the next 15 or more years it isn’t a very long time at all. If you put in the time and effort in the first year you will reap the rewards for many years to come.
It is helpful to use a check list to ensure your puppy encounters everything throughout his early life to ensure a happy confident adult in later life. Socialisation Checklist
It is important that puppies/young dogs continually have positive experiences with the items on the list throughout the adolescence period and into adulthood. Remember to introduce places items gradually, for example ,for your first visit into town with your puppy choose a quieter time/day so they are not over faced. If your puppy is uncomfortable don’t push it and try again another day perhaps taking him to town after the shops have closed so he can get used to the new environment and smells without the hustle of shoppers.
A lot of rescue dogs have missed out on this early socialisation/training but this doesn’t mean you cannot improve their behaviour, it just means that it will take a lot longer. It may not be possible to completely change certain behaviours as a nervous dog may always be a little unsure. But in almost all cases you can make significant progress with a second chance dog. However immediately joining a class situation isn’t always the best option it depends very much on the individual dog. A dog that feels nervous in the presence of other dogs or people and lunges and barks would not do well in an ordinary indoor class as again stress inhibits learning and I’m pretty sure the owner wouldn’t learn much either.
There are other options to start these types of dog’s on the road of socialisation and training such as 1:1 sessions or outdoor group lessons specifically for “reactive” dogs. You may never have a dog that enjoys the close proximity of other dogs but there are ways to help them ,and you to manage the situation much better.
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought on the topic of socialisation, people are beginning to understand the importance of puppy socialisation but sometimes just don’t grasp what it is all about. The amount of calls I get from people wanting a puppy class where puppies can purely play with other puppies/dogs in order to socialise them is very high.
Simply put it’s all about balance but it’s getting the right balance where the difficulty lies.