‘Socialisation’ is a big buzz word when it comes to dogs. It’s what we all want when we get our puppy or new dog. We want them to be happy to meet new people and dogs, to be happy in new places and situations. However, there’s a difference between good socialisation and bad socialisation.
I saw a client recently for 1-2-1 training with her 2 year old dog. Her dog has been steadily getting worse with resource guarding and being reactive with other dogs.
I asked about the day-care setting she used with her dog when the dog was an adolescent, and it came as no surprise to me to hear it was jam-packed full of dogs with only a couple of humans there to oversee everything *insert one of my epic facepalms here*
You see, I’m not a fan of doggy day cares in general. I find they cause a lot of behavioural issues and are often ran by people who don’t have proper knowledge about dogs. I have no doubt they love dogs very much, but they may not know enough about training and behaviour to spot the problems early on.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s many good day cares out there who are very knowledgeable and very good at what they do, but I reckon they are the exception and not the rule. They often have a waiting list, smaller ratios and are more expensive.
What is Socialisation?
Many people send their dog to day care because they are out at work and want their dog to play all day with their friends (I hate that too, but that’s a whole other subject!) They also want their dogs to be ‘socialised’, but what exactly do they mean?
Socialisation is where a dog (or human) is exposed to the ways of the world and the other animals living in it. They get to know how things look, how they sound, how they smell and the way it all works. It’s about learning how to interact with the environment in a way which is deemed acceptable.
How this is done determines whether or not it is good socialisation or bad.
Good Socialisation – This is where puppies are exposed to different sights, sounds, smells and stresses from a young age, but done so in a positive and careful way. Good breeders will carefully handle puppies before their eyes open to introduce a wee bit of stress, but just enough to act like an ‘inoculation’, so they recover quickly and have more experience of it next time. They will take puppies out in the car, play sounds like fireworks or gun shots at a low volume (usually when they are eating), let them hear the TV/vacuum cleaner, play sounds of kids playing, have different visitors over to see the pups (men, women, children, people wearing hats, people with beards etc) and all the while, doing it in a positive and well guided way.
With their new owners, good socialisation looks like trips to the vets to just sit in the waiting room eating treats, seeing new dogs out on walks, seeing people walking by, hearing sounds, seeing new animals etc. It is good socialisation when these things are done with consideration for the dog’s emotional state and working with their personality. It becomes bad socialisation when done heavy headedly, when we just throw our dogs in at the deep end so they become overwhelmed and scared, when we take them places and just expect them to cope.
Depending on the nature of the dog, some dogs are very stoic and level headed with new things and we think of them as bomb proof, while others are more sensitive and timid, and have a lower threshold for dealing with situations.
What constitutes bad socialisation? That could be a ‘breeder’ who has kept puppies in a barn with mum and never exposing them to the wider world. It could be a new owner getting a puppy and then taking them to a fireworks display to ‘get used to fireworks’. It could be a dog made to greet a pack of dogs at a day care or puppy party without the proper care or attention of a knowledgeable person. It could be taking them to a busy market when they have never seen so many people before. It could be letting them greet every dog they see on a walk or letting them jump up at every person.
Socialisation isn’t about flooding your dog with new things, it’s about them having a positive experience in the world as they explore it. If a dog isn’t great with other dogs, the last thing you want to do is send them to a day care or to walk with someone who has 10 dogs out at once. You will end up with more problems down the line.
You can’t cure an arachnophobe by sitting them in a room full of free-range spiders, and you can’t make a dog be ‘socialised ‘ by throwing them in with a pack of dogs.
As a trainer, I see a lot of dogs with problems caused by lack of proper socialisation when they were younger, or because they have attended places which have caused the dog to react in order to protect themselves.
Getting it right in the early days can make a massive difference to how your puppy develops and learns, which is why I offer my K9 Coaching Classes and Puppy 1-2-1’s. I want to show people how to get it right so that issues don’t arise down the line.
Why not check out my K9 Coaching classes HERE and my Puppy packages HERE. Or if you have an older dog and need some help, you can see the info HERE. Training is an investment for you and your dog and when done right, leads to years of happiness for you and your furry best mate. I know times are tough, but making that investment now before problems arise or get worse will money well spent. If you are seeing behaviour issues now in your dog, then seek sooner rather than later, because behaviour never stays the same, it either gets better or it gets worse and you can decide which it will be.