Socialisation, it is the one word on every new puppy owners mind but is it fully understood? I have worked with many first time owners over the years and the main definition, to them, seems to be that the dog has to become friends with everyone and everything it meets. Yes we all want a dog that grows up to be confident, sociable and playful but what are the risks involved with a dog that loves everything and wants to play with everything? How should a dog be socialised properly?
My idea of socialisation is teaching a puppy firstly not to fear things in everyday life and secondly learning how to behave appropriately around stimuli. Basically how to live their lives happily with out getting into trouble!
A common problem I see is over socialisation when young, leading to frustration during the teenage phase. Owners have done a great job of teaching their dog how to play and interact with other dogs but they have not learnt realistic expectations as they grow up thinking they can play with every dog they meet. What happens when their dog is on a lead and can’t reach the dog it has its sights on the other side of the road? Or the owner sees another dog that is not sociable and tries to keep theirs away! Quite often they end with a dog like a coiled spring on the end of the lead whining and pulling to get to the other dog as it has no idea why suddenly it is not allowed to socialise. I like the 3-dog rule and will be using it with Hagen my puppy as he will have to learn to ignore other dogs when he is working as a Search and Rescue dog, but also be sociable when he is at the park and with my other dogs at home. The 3 dog rule means Hagen will interact with one suitable dog when both are off-lead and potentially play, then he will learn to walk past and ignore the next dog, then the third dog may be an on-lead interaction of a quick bottom sniff, this will help keep things realistic as he will learn he doesn’t meet every dog he sees.
Another important part of socialisation that I see go wrong often is interacting with other species. This could be cats, small pets in the home, livestock on walks and horses being ridden or in paddocks. I find people often think if your dog can interact and play with other species then they are socialised and safe to be near all livestock. Yes to a certain degree you want your dog to get on with the other family pets but both parties need to be willing participants not a poor cat that puts up with it.
If Hagen is to be a successful Search and Rescue dog he has to pass a livestock test which means he has to be able to ignore things such as sheep, horse riders, squirrels, rabbits, deer and keep his mind on the job in hand. Lots of people have been telling me to let him meet their sheep, as they are tame and he can interact and play with them but I don’t want a dog that runs up to sheep and other animals thinking it is ok to play and interact!
If a dog grows up having close contact with a horse or other species there is a high chance it will try to approach these animals when out on a walk and not all animals are happy with that and this can lead to an accident for a rider if your dog runs up. Equally meeting tame sheep is very different to the reality of a field of sheep that run at the slightest sound or movement from a dog in their direction.
With Hagen I will be introducing him to a variety of animals at a safe distance so he is not scared and we don’t spook the animals into running and triggering Hagen’s prey drive. Then I will be doing some controlled training sessions with Hagen on a long line teaching him that looking at me and moving away from the animals is far more rewarding. As he gets better at this we will get closer to the animals and over time Hagen will be happy to work in close proximity to other animals but has also learnt that you never interact. We will also do impulse control training around animals moving at a distance again so the movement is not a trigger to chase.
Every dog is different and the majority of dogs are family pets but it is still important to get the socialisation part right so you can enjoy many years of fun walks with your four legged friend.
In a nutshell – socialisation is about having a calm well-behaved dog that is not scared of life but knows how to behave and stay out of trouble.