Socialising Your Dog (Part 1)
We all like to socialise but when we speak about socialising a puppy or dog, we don’t mean going for a coffee!
Socialising a dog means the process of introducing them to things, sensations and situations that we want them to regard as normal so that when they come across them later, they’ll be calm and not display any problem behaviour. In fact, a lot of canine behaviour problems can stem from them being unsure or anxious about a situation they’re not used to, so making sure they’re socialised well can really help out in later life.
With Doha’s first off-leash dog park on the verge of opening, we thought it’d be a great time to give you a few pointers to get you and your four legged companion ready for days in the park.
The Socialisation Window
As a puppy, everything new is a form of socialisation, so it’s important to expose your pup to a wide range of new situations and stimuli. Between the ages of about 6 weeks and 16 weeks, your puppy is taking in absolutely everything around them- every sight, every smell, every reaction. This is known as the socialisation window and it makes getting them used to the world so much easier if they’re exposed to things during this period.
There are three things to know about the socialisation window.
First, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. You can absolutely socialise an older dog, it’s just a little more work. It’s best to expose your dog to as many things as you can during the window, but it’s not a massive problem if a suitable situation doesn’t pop up. It might take a bit more time for them to learn that things aren’t as scary as they thought, but with a bit of time and effort, even an old dog can adapt.
Second, between 8-12 weeks is when vets recommend your dog gets its vaccinations. Before they’re fully vaccinated, they really shouldn’t be mixing with dogs that haven’t had their shots, or even walking where those who’ve not been jabbed might have been (Parvo Virus is nasty). This slightly limits the opportunities to get them used to seeing and playing with strange dogs, but there’s still plenty you can be doing in the meantime.
Third, there is a period within this window where a fear response to new stimuli is much more likely. The best thing to do if this happens with your pup is to take a step back- increase the distance until they calm down. Don’t be tempted to try exposure therapy- you run the risk of making it a problem in the future.
How Do You Socialise A Puppy?
It’s actually a lot simpler than you might think. Puppies love to explore and play. This is how they find out about the world and which behaviours are suitable. The best thing you can do is take them with you. Whatever they’re exposed to, they’ll regard as normal.
As well as the obvious things like traveling in the car and day-to-day household activities, it’s particularly important to get them used to other animals and strangers.
The best way to get them used to these things is very simple- get out there and let them experience them! As with all training, remember to reward the right behaviours.
As we’ve said, puppies love to play. Sometimes they want to play with something that doesn’t want to play back- luckily, most older dogs will be happy to tell off an overly enthusiastic puppy and most will get the message fairly quickly.
When introducing your dog to others, keep a close eye on their body language- if they’re showing signs of fear reassure them and walk on. If they’re getting a bit too boisterous, get them to focus on you and reward them when they listen to you.
Puppy play can look a little rough to us, but so long as they’re taking turns in being the dominant dog, it’s nothing to worry about unless it gets really out of hand.
When it comes to other animals like cats and livestock, what you want is for your dog to not react. Once they notice them, try and keep their attention on you and reward them for not chasing. What we’re looking for here is to let your dog know that other animals are boring- you’re much more interesting. You have the treats.
Everyone wants to pat a puppy and (most) puppies love the attention. Unfortunately, puppies don’t stay small for long so what can seem cute at first (jumping up) can quickly become a problem. It can also lead to anxiety for your puppy if they don’t want to play and someone is being overly friendly.
While you’re out on your walks, people will no doubt want to say hello. It can be hard, but ask them to let the dog approach them and to not react if they jump up. This goes for family and friends too- let the dog decide when they want to approach someone.
If you’ve got a puppy that just wants to make friends with everyone, keep them moving. Reward them when they focus on you rather than everyone else while you’re out on a walk.
Bringing your dog with you to pet-friendly places like Barkers and Mittens can be a great way of exposing them to lots of other animals and people- and we absolutely love seeing them!
Of course, this is just a very brief overview of the socialisation process. What tips and tricks have you found that can help get your pets ready for the world? We’d love to hear them in the comments.