What is socialisation?
Socialisation is quite the buzz word! Good socialisation is a puppy learning how to interact with other species that they will come into contact with, and who you want them to come into contact with in a safe way. Unfortunately there’s still a prevailing idea that socialisation means putting your puppy into a situation with tens of other dogs and allowing them to spar, nip, play, wrestle and pin each other on the floor. This can be detrimental to a puppies emotional development and result in fear, reactivity or aggression. Just like children, puppies have different temperaments due to their genes and environment so what one puppy finds fun, another may find intimidating. If a puppy is barking and lunging then it is important to get out of the situation. – they may be feeling nervous. When the other dog does move away we do not want our puppy to think that it’s their barking and lunging behaviour that has resulted in the dog moving away. If this behaviour has helped them to feel safe, then they are likely to repeat it as it’s self reinforcing. There’s no problem in doing this and returning another day. It is ok to go slow and steady.. it wins the race!
Overwhelming your puppy means you may have to gradually introduce them to new things. Start by visiting quieter places and then gradually increase the noise, people and dogs.
Even if the emotional consequences that can potentially occur with free for all puppy play are dodged, it’s unlikely you will want to allow your dog to play with every dog they meet. Free for all’s can encourage this behaviour. After all, what get’s rewarded gets repeated and dog play can be very rewarding. A lot of people would like a dog who learns to settle and relax in the presence of other dogs and. If your dog starts to think they can play with everyone they meet then this can transpire to other training challenges such as pulling towards every dog (loose lead walking) and not coming back when called (recall).
A note on tall beings with big hands – us!
If your puppy is being carried or in a sling, and seeing, hearing the big wide world, it’s important that big scary hands don’t approach them without warning and with lots of intensity. As your puppy is up against you then they are trapped – they cannot move away if they would like to. It can be an intimidating feeling if something is coming towards you but you do not want it to. It is a
more sensible and safe idea to allow your puppy to be able to retreat from the person if they want to. One idea is sitting on a bench and giving your puppy some freedom of movement to move away. Choice will help build confidence as they know they can move away if they want to.
What red flags should I watch out for?
Puppy parties where the person is not trained in canine body language and allows an out of control ‘free for all’ is not wise for a puppies emotional and wellbeing. It does not teach a puppy social skills either.
Suggesting that puppies/dogs can be matched simply on breed alone without taking into account their life experiences and temperament, and play style is about as helpful as suggesting that every girl loves the colour pink! It is unhelpful labelling.
If your puppy is running away and is constantly being chased it is important to break up the play. Good puppy play is balanced and they should be mirroring each other’s body language.
If your puppy is hiding behind you that’s a sign they would like some space too.
3 main points to take home
- If you are unsure about a situation that your puppy is in, it is fine to move away and out of it. It is far better to return to the step another day.
- Gradually build up your puppies confidence by visiting new places and seeing people and dogs for short but regular periods.
- Think about how your dog may be feeling in a situation – can they move away if they would like to?
Dog play is lovely to watch and puppies can make great friends for life if it is approached in the right way. We need to ensure that all puppies are enjoying the experience!
I have sold out our 17th Feb puppy class so I have some spots available on our small group puppy classes (maximum of 6 puppies) where we talk about socialisation, body language and complete some training (including tricks!). I’d be delighted to see you there on 16th Feb.