Sunday, April 24, 2022

Socialisation - Getting it right for your dog.


That thing where it is drummed into dogparents of young puppies that if we are not finished checking off the things on the socialisation lists by 12 - 16 weeks, our dogs are doomed to a life of misery ever after. 

That means our dogs must see 200 types of people, with beards, pointy hats, alien ears, clown's shoes and driving 7 different colours of tractor, with a different accent for every day of the week.

That means also experiencing every animal known to man, plus bringing back to life some dinosaurs, to introduce them to our dogs, too, by 12-16 weeks.

That means our dogs need to experience a round the world flight, to catch a boat trip, to get on the motorbike, to use the sidecar, to get to the race track where they can experience the thrill of a trip around the F1 track with Lewis Hamilton on his tea break, before helicoptering in to headline at the o2 Arena.

Of course, this must be done with an example present of each of 222 breeds listed when you look at the recognised A-Z of The Kennel Club. Naturally.

And don't forget to go to 17 different clubs and classes, plus puppy parties, dog parks and every other dog-themed activity within 175 miles of your house. 

Fast Forward to 16 weeks + 1 day.
Chances are you have a dog who is either in therapy for their drink problem, has taken up gambling in Las Vegas, is looking forward to a "clean break" from their dogparent ...or, at the very least, is really struggling to come to terms with all the things that they have experienced so far.

Socialisation, when done wrong, often causes much more harm than good. 

We can sensitise rather than desensitise them to stimuli and turn the stimuli into triggers.

We can take a timid puppy and show them exactly how scary the world is. Imagine having strangers and scary things all looking at you all day. Scary noises and experiences that your dogparent won't let you run away from. Being overwhelmed by frightening stuff is not pleasant.

We can accidentally teach our puppies that every time they see other dogs it is a free for all by allowing them to wrestle and play every time they go near another dog - which is fine when they are still cute and the size of gerbils who can be picked up and plopped next to their next victim, once the dog they are terrorising in the name of "play" has had enough. But, once they hit adolescence and beyond, they will end up with humans who struggle to recall in the park and other dogs who suddenly do not like them and their attempts to play.

We can show them exactly how children pull them around and hurt them. 

How older people wheel walkers into them. 

How other dogs bite and bark.

How babies steal their toys. 

How cars backfire or make them feel sick. 

How vets jab you with needles. 

How buses rattle and wobble as they speed past on fast roads. 

How cats jump out and scratch you. 

How postmen try to burgle you. 

The list of things we can show them is endless.

Or... we can socialise them the RIGHT way.

Sure, dogs need socialisation, and they learn a lot in those formative weeks, but they are learning every minute of every day for the rest of their lives. 

If they haven't yet met a pug in a pig costume, riding in a pushchair with a chimp in a tutu pushing them along by the time they are 16+1, then the world will not end. They have their entire lives to see such wonders, and should they be going through a fear phase at 12 weeks instead of the expected one at 8 weeks, or they are just a little nervous in general, then it will not hurt them to wait until they can cope better.

Scale the socialisation program right back to things your dog is likely to experience regularly. If they are going to see pigs, let them see pigs. If they are going to see trains, let them see trains. If they are not going to be seeing camels any time soon, there is no need for them to go visit camels.

Then make these experiences either positive or background noise while you are doing something else with your dog. 

Background noise is generally best to aim for. While we do not want our dog to be afraid of things, we do not want our dog to be the opposite. Running up to absolutely everything expecting to play, jumping up, bowling over toddlers in their joy to see them. Being "that dog" whose dogparent assures you is "friendly" when they annoy the shit out of the other dogs in the park. 

Background noise means our dog is more focused on US, playing with US, enjoying sniffs and doing stuff with US, and not bothering anyone else. Background noise exists, but our dogs are not bothered by it either way. 

You could go and sit at a bench a distance away from the road and have a little picnic together, do some boundary games, or proof some cues perhaps, and let traffic and traffic noise go by and melt into the distance. Horses, tractors, lorries, all kinds of things can go past without you or your dog paying much attention to it, and your dog will all the time be learning that those things are not so worrisome.

If Mrs Snodgrass's demon crotch goblins (from next door) are likely to pull your dog's ears and tease them, then find some more likeable children for your dog to experience. Children that will play alongside your dog without forcing interaction. 

Maybe your dog can play something with you at the park, where parents and children come and go on the swings, but not bother your dog. 

Or they could be family members, or friends' children, who have been briefed on allowing the dog to come and see them in their own time and how to read dog body language and are being supervised.

You could have a very short car ride and come home again.

You can visit the reception at the vets, sit and play for 5 minutes and come home again with no terrible or arousing experiences occurring.

You could allow your dog to have a long line and go for a sniffy walk to experience all the wonderful smells around them without rushing.

You can walk where you can see other dogs in the distance without your dog being rushed by them or being allowed to rush at them either. 

You can introduce your dog to calm dogs, who will not be stressed by a puppy's antics, and you can play with your dog in the calm dog's presence to teach your dog that other dogs are not a reason to go doolally and that other dogs are generally none of their business.

Contrary to popular belief, your dog doesn't need to run like the wind with a pack of baying hounds every day atop mountains and along sandy beaches to feel like their social needs are met. 

They can enjoy seeing other dogs, having calm interactions, or not really interacting much, and just have a few friends with whom they enjoy playing. They can also cope well without seeing many other dogs, but by being allowed to sniff grass verges and check their peemail in peace. 

You can leave out a pushchair or a bike, or set up snuffleboxes, so they can experience wheeled things, noises, smells and textures from the safety of your living room.

You can have a few days off from the whole blooming thing and just enjoy each other's company. In fact, make a point of doing so. Think of it as a spa break for relief from your dog's overflowing stress bucket.

The key is to start as you mean to go on. 

YOU keep your dog safe, and only in situations they can handle. 

YOU show your dog things from a distance and make the experience calm and pleasant. 

YOU play with your dog. 

YOU exercise with your dog, and don't rely on other dogs to exercise your dog for you. 

YOU teach focus and engagement with YOU while out and about.

Socialise your dog in this way, gently and with care. 

View it as a lifelong objective to help your dog navigate the world from a place of security. Instead of attempting to fit in every experience ever invented while telling yourself "he needs to get used to it", he should "face his fears". 

Your dog will likely not need to do anything other than be appropriate and feel appropriately with other things.

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