Socialising your puppy is the process of introducing him to other people, dogs and other animals, ensuring they have plenty of contact. It is the process of learning how to interact, how to behave and how to relate to others. As well as training, socialisation is one of the most important things you can do for your puppy.
The temperament and personality of every dog differs. There are shy ones and bold ones, aggressive and passive ones and there are those that are very friendly and those not so. There are many influencing factors which attribute to these behaviours, some are indeed breed specific or genetic. What is without doubt, however, is that for the most part, behaviours are influenced by how well, or not, a puppy has been socialised.
Failure to socialise your puppy properly is very likely to cause fear and aggression and can make a dog very unhappy for their entire life.
When I was growing up in the 70’s our attitude towards dogs was so different than it is today. We would let our dogs out first thing in the morning and they’d wonder off, come and go as they pleased, often staying away from home until it was time for the early evening feed. Even at a young age our dogs were free to roam. Dogs roaming the streets was a very common sight back then. Right or wrong, that’s just how it was. Today, many would say that was quite irresponsible, even though many people back then would say that their dog had ‘road sense’, and in many cases that was certainly true. But one thing I specifically recall from those days was the lack of aggression seen in dogs compared to that which we see today. In fact, on the rare occasion we did see a dog fight, we could guarantee it was in pursuit of a bitch in season, all other times, dogs were usually very friendly and social. We didn’t go to puppy classes nor do anything in particular to socialise them, we had never heard of any such things. Dogs were naturally socialised.
Of course today it is a much different story. Our knowledge has greatly improved and laws have been introduced which help to protect our dogs. Dogs are kept securely and any strays are soon picked up by local council dog wardens and sent to the dog shelter.
We have become far more protective of our dogs and perhaps, in my opinion, we are a little over protective, as people can be often seen avoiding their dog making contact with others. It’s sad to see so many people cross the road, or change direction when they see another dog or even pick up their dog when they see an unknown dog approaching. But as irritating as this is it’s quite understandable too. We don’t know if the other dog is friendly or not. Can we risk our beloved pooch around other dogs? They could be really aggressive, as so many dogs are these days.
There are a number of reasons why dogs can become aggressive. They may be recovering from illness, have a litter of puppies at home or are on heat which would cause short term periods of aggression. A more deep rooted aggression may be caused by removing the pup too early from the litter, or too late can also cause such behavioural issues. The list goes on. But one of the most common causes of aggression is lack of socialisation at an early age. It is crucial to a dog’s future and his behaviour that he is socialised well, and more importantly, as early as possible and certainly before they are 16 weeks old. Failure to do so will almost certainly result in the dog becoming scared of other dogs and/or humans. Fear in dogs is very likely to manifest itself as aggression.
So it can be somewhat of a vicious circle. We don’t want to risk our dogs getting attacked so we avoid contact with others. We don’t allow contact with others so we inhibit socialisation. Lack of socialisation causes aggression. So what do we do?
First of all, get out with your puppies and socialise them properly. Do it as soon as they are immune following vaccination. When approaching other dogs, don’t just cross the road or change direction, shout out to the owner to ask if their dog is friendly, often people will offer this information anyway, a quick “he’s OK” is enough. If you’re unsure, allow your dog to at least have a go at ‘saying hello’ or having a sniff. Keep him on a short lead and be ready to pull him away if necessary but allow him enough freedom of movement. Be careful not to become stressed about it, your dog will pick up on this and his behaviour may change as a result. Learn how to identify particular behaviours so you can act upon each situation effectively and correctly. Go to the dog park and let your pup play with other dogs, well supervised of course. Go to puppy classes to socialise your dog, learn how to handle the dog properly and correct any unwanted behaviours as they develop. You will also find that training your dog will increase that bond you have with your dog, they need and love to be trained and will love you for it.
A well trained, well socialised dog is a very happy dog.