As your puppy grows he or she will encounter all manner of things throughout their life and the way they are encouraged to react can be the difference between a well-balanced dog and a problem pooch.
The ‘official’ socialisation period acknowledged by canine psychologists is between the ages of three and 12 weeks. However, in reality, socialisation never truly stops (as many owners can testify, seeing the reaction the first time an old dog encounters a hedgehog etc.)
Therefore it is vital that as the owner you fulfil your responsibility to ensure that your pup is introduced to many different people, places, objects and animals during his formative months, to prevent everyday things becoming a ‘big deal’. (Please note- I’m not suggesting you take the pup along to a farm to mingle with the livestock – this would be one sure-fire way to lose your dog – but encountering cars, bikes, pushchairs are all helpful.)
How to discourage fear during socialisation…
If your pup meets something strange and he shows any signs of fear, don’t attempt to calm him down by stroking him and speaking in a soothing voice. (Remember, dogs speak ‘canine’, not English!) He doesn’t understand that you’re saying, “The big bad vacuum cleaner can’t really hurt us.” What he thinks, instead, is that your soothing tones are saying “That’s right puppy, you be afraid of the big bad Hoover, because rather than being nothing to be scared of, it is, in fact, a very big deal”!!!
A soft voice and stroking are perceived by dogs to be a form of reward for the behaviour they are currently exhibiting. So, if you don’t want him to continue to show fear towards a particular object/person/animal, you must speak in a very matter of fact – if slightly off-hand – manner and give him lots of praise and a tasty treat when he then approaches the thing bravely. In this way he begins to see that the object really is no ‘big deal’ after all.
Once your puppy has had his full vaccinations, you should endeavour to take him to many different places so that he can see that not all people look like his owner and not all dogs are the same shape as him (this isn’t a joke – many racing greyhounds are freaked out when they retire and encounter dogs which are not the same shape as they are!)
If you have the opportunity to enrol your dog in a local puppy class this can help his socialisation enormously, but go along and check out the trainer first to ensure you’re happy with the methods being used.
For further help with puppies or any problem dog behaviour please get in touch on 07980505563.