Puppy socialisation – its all in the name, yes?
Well, that kind of depends what you think of when you read the word socialisation. There are two definitions of the word.
1. The activity of mixing socially with others.
2. The process of learning to behave in a way which is acceptable to society.
Many people believe puppy socialisation is the first definition, but I like to think of it as the second.
Believing that when trainers and vets say to make sure that you socialise your puppy, you must make sure it introduces itself and plays with as many different dogs as possible, and then you have done your job is both misleading and harmful, and those trainers and vets should have done a better job to fully explain why, and how to actually socialise your puppy so that it can live comfortable in this human oriented, modern, society.
Firstly, why is introducing your puppy to many dogs potentially harmful? What do I mean by that?
I see that this harm falls mainly into two camps. Negative Associations, and Over-friendliness.
A puppy does need to come into contact with other, adult dogs, to learn how to communicate effectively and politely with other canines. However, it can do this with only two or three well behaved, effective communicators. The puppy should be learning from dogs who are already themselves polite canines, otherwise it is learning all the wrong things. On top of this, if the other dog is not well behaved and polite, the puppy may get frightened, be told off in an inappropriate manner or stumble upon a grumpy dog which does not want to talk to a puppy. These things can create a negative association with meeting other dogs, and affect how your dog greets, or reacts towards other dogs for the rest of its life. If it feels that all other dogs may be really scary, it will try to scare all other dogs away first, and this can be where we get reactive dogs from. You need to make sure that the dogs your puppy greets are definitely the sort of dog you want your puppy to mimic. If not, don’t let your puppy learn from them!
Over-friendliness may not seem too bad, its not as bad as having a reactive dog, right?
Wrong. A dog that has never learned how to ignore other dogs, how to move on, and that there is no need to play with every single other dog it meets can cause you a lot of frustration on walks. Say you meet a guide dog? A service dog in training? A nervous dog? An aggressive dog? A dog on a lead? Or any other dog which it is innapropriate to greet?
You will now have a frustrated dog, probably trying to pull you over, or ignoring your recall to go and greet the other dog. Your dog doesn’t understand who it can and cannot greet, so it should be prepared for not being able to play with every dog. If you have to constantly scan hundreds of metres in advance of your walk to check out what other dogs are ahead of you, if you have to constantly call your dog away from other dogs which are trying to get away from your dog, if you have to keep putting your dog on the lead before it has seen a guide dog (or other inappropriate-to-greet dog) up ahead, if you have to field off other dog walkers saying things like ‘please call off your dog, my dog is not friendly’, if you have to be the one shouting ‘Don’t worry, he’s friendly!!’ as you chase after your dog who is bowling up to another dog trying to run away… then you have been on the bad end of an over-greeter.
Now, all of these things are on a scale, and all of these things can be ‘fixed’ and ‘treated’. And some dogs may just be more susceptible to these things than others.
And if you have one of these dogs, it doesn’t make them a bad dog. It doesn’t mean that anything was your fault, and it doesn’t mean that they may not have developed this later.
However, I suggest that if you have a new puppy, you give serious consideration to who they are introduced to, and how many dogs they meet at a time.