The last blog post was about getting puppies out and being socialised as early as possible, but what exactly does socialisation mean?
Contrary to popular belief, socialisation is not letting as many people as possible hold your puppy, or letting them meet and play with every dog they see. Socialisation is so much more than that.
In simple terms, “socialisation” refers to the learning process that a puppy must undergo to learn key life skills which ensure that they are happy and confident in their environment, and can communicate effectively within their social group.The Kennel Club
Puppies don’t come preinstalled with an understanding of our world. This means that if we don’t teach them, it can be a really scary place. When they experience lots of different scenarios in a safe way when they’re young, the less new scenarios are scary through life. If we wait until our puppies are much older to start experiencing our world, they have already had a chance to establish what is a normal world to them, and these new experiences don’t fit that.
So, the first area of socialisation is experiencing lots of different things, sounds, sights, smells, ensuring that puppy isn’t feeling uncomfortable or scared. You’re aiming for inquisitive, maybe a bit unsure but happy to check it out and be brave, or completely unfazed. If puppy is terrified and forced to stick with it, they’re setting the idea that it’s a terrifying thing for life.
The key to this is getting as big a range of experiences as possible, as well as making sure they see all the things you will expect them to be able to deal with later in life. I don’t think many gundog trainers are going to wait until their puppies are 6 months old before they hear their first gunshot, guide dog puppies aren’t going to start going out in public at 6 months old. If you’re going to be walking them on the school run daily when old enough, let them experience it in your arms nice and early. If you live on or near a farm it would be a good idea to get them used to the sights, sounds and smells of farm machinery.
Think about all those things you’ll expect them to cope with, and make a list. Try to check off as many of those as you can while they’re still little blank slates, everything else then is a bonus.
One of the venues we regularly go to agility shows at has a farm nearby that uses bird scarers (regular bangs like gunshots). It was so convenient that someone went shooting near my house and I could get Maze out to hear it before she’s 8 months old and visiting the venue for the first time. So many dogs find it really hard there, hopefully now it’ll be no big deal for her!
Next to consider is surfaces. Not only is it handy if they’re happy to move on all surfaces, plastic, grass, concrete, gravel, sand, rubber etc it’s handy if they can go to the toilet on all of them. I’ve certainly had dogs before that would only pee on grass, that’s not so handy when you want to go on holiday by boat.
When it comes to other dogs and people, it is good to let them interact with nice dogs and other people, but unless you want your puppy to grow up thinking that they can play with every single dog and person they see, don’t set that precedent. You could sit near a popular walk location and reward your puppy for chilling while watching, or interacting with you while they pass. If they lose their minds seeing the other dogs, you’re too close. Just move back to a distance where they can cope, reward it, then move closer over time. This should get you a puppy who doesn’t bounce and pull on the lead to get to everyone passing them.
Bottom line of socialisation is, think about the dog you want to have and show your puppy all the things they’ll need to be happy and confident in that role.