I believe Puppy and Dog Training is similar to raising children. Our new members of the family need guidance, boundaries, protection and lots of love & affection. If they stayed in their natural pack they would receive the same training by their mother, father and siblings. So it is our responsibility if we take on a dog to become their new pack family and guide them through the journey of life.
One of the first steps in helping our puppies adjust to life in the human world is socialisation. This includes socialisation within the family and the outside world. In the family it means helping them understand their place in the pack and following the rules set by the Pack Leaders. Just as their mother’s did during the first 8-10 weeks of their life; correcting them when they broke the rules. Dogs need to understand their place in the pack; it is an instinctive drive which they are born with and ensures balance and stability within the pack. Through their very nature they themselves figure out where they belong in the pack hierarchy.
In the human pack, a lack of leadership can create confusion which often leads to dogs displaying inappropriate behaviours. As long as our dogs understand their place in the pack hierarchy and have strong leadership they are less likely to develop behavioural problems later in life. Instead they become confident, well-adjusted and well behaved members of the family; just how we want our own children to develop and integrate into society.
Socialising our puppy to the outside world is also a critical aspect in their development. Dogs are social creatures. Your pup needs interaction for their emotional and mental well-being. That means with you, other people, children, other dogs, other animals, cars and various other stimuli within the human world.
Puppies have what is called a ‘critical socialisation period’ between approximately 3 -17 weeks of age. This is a period where the puppy’s sociability and curiosity outweighs fear and the brain itself is open to new experiences making socialisation more successful. Their experiences during this critical period of learning and development can influence and shape their behaviour well into adulthood. Once a dog has passed this Socialization Period he will treat any unfamiliar stimuli as potentially dangerous to his well-being. Our dogs have this built-in mechanism passed down to them from their ancestors in the wild. It ensures protection of baby animals from natural hazards in their environment. The problem the domestic dog has is that it needs to become familiar with an enormous number of stimuli in a very short time so as to be able to live in and cope with the diversity of our world.
Fight or Flight: When a dog feels uncomfortable with anything that is unfamiliar to him, he reacts in one of two ways: he runs from it or he fights with it. Millions of dogs are put down each year due to preventable behavioural problems. One in five of the dogs that Dr. Valerie O’Farrell (1986) studied while conducting research at Edinburgh (Royal Dick) University Veterinary School had a behavioural problem to a lesser or greater extent. A similar, but larger, American study fixed the figure at one in four. Dr Farrell states “In one year my practice treated 773 dogs – 79 of them, that’s 10 percent, had problems of fearfulness towards people or the environment due to a lack of early socialisation or habituation and a further 4.5 percent were inept at relating to other dogs, again due to a lack of early socialisation.” She says the problem is immeasurably greater than these figures suggest. “Many dogs show a weakness of temperament or inability to cope when faced with a particular situation, without their behaviour becoming problematical enough for the owners to seek help from a behavioural counsellor.”
The sad reality for unsocalised dogs is often a life-time of various behavioural, mental, emotional and physical issues. Dogs get sick from stress! Their behavioural issues can can make training difficult for the average person, they can develop health problems, immune issues & allergies and shed more. A stressed dog can become aggressive, unpredictable, and unmanageable leading to dog attacks and people, especially children being bitten. Eventually owners give up and the dog ends up in an animal shelter or anaesthetised.
How to socialise our new puppy. If you are going to keep your puppy outside you must spend lots of quality time outside with your dog and make sure they can always see inside so they still feel part of the family. Exposure to the following environments will help your puppy adjust and desensitize to the sights, sounds and smells of day to day life:
- Contact with a wide range of people, including children, toddlers, babies, women and men, including men with beards, hats, sunglasses, hoodies, boots, umbrellas, etc.
- Exposure to household noises eg. vacuum cleaners, radios, TV, blenders, banging, kids running around, bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, prams, microwaves etc.
- Gentle touch and handling of their body including the ears, feet (in-between pads), tail and mouth.
- Travelling in the car – start with just sitting in the car and giving your dog treats.
- Spending time in a crate or safe space- being left for short periods of time builds confidence and helps alleviate any separation anxiety issues. Leave them with a chewy treat while you leave the house or go to another room.
- Walking on a lead – you can put their lead on and just let them get used to the feeling it. You don’t have to go for a walk.
- Introducing different surfaces on walks eg. concrete paths, the beach, grass and wet grass (so the pup will still toilet outside in the rain)
- Introducing to different vaccinated dogs and exposure to other animals g. cats, rabbits, birds etc. in a positive way
- Eating meals from food puzzle toys – a great way to keep your puppy mentally stimulated and enjoying their own company.
- Playing with toys, with you and alone
- Commencing house-training – take puppy outside and reward for eliminating outside. Never punish your puppy for eliminating inside. Your puppy will need to toilet after sleeping and playing.
- Learning to sit for greetings instead of jumping up
When socialising our puppies it must be a positive experience, not overwhelming. Over-stimulation of a young puppy can result in excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behaviours, don’t force your puppy. Don’t hurry or force his progress, and don’t try to do too much at once. Puppies tire quickly, so keep socialisation sessions frequent but relatively brief — and always positive. When your puppy shows hesitance or fear — and most puppies will as they attempt to adjust to a big, noisy world – do not reward his fearful behaviour with a lot of attention and affection. Stay close by to reassure him he’s safe, but remember that your puppy views your attention and affection as a reward for a particular behaviour. Rewarding his fearful behaviour can encourage his fearfulness.
Socialising your puppy should be an enjoyable, satisfying experience for both of you — one that will pay dividends for the rest of your life and create a strong and lasting bond. There is no greater joy than a well-adjusted, well-behaved four-legged member of the family