I want my dog to be well socialised
As humans we have got the socialised aspect of canine companionship a bit confused. We put a lot of emphasis on the playing with other dog’s aspect of socialisation but even then, playing with other dogs is such a small part of socialisation. Dogs have energy, they know how to move, they can even speak the same language and read body language of another dog better than us humans can ever dream of. So why do some dogs not read others so well?
Often this can be due to poor socialisation. Dogs that have been allowed, and sometimes encouraged, to interact with too many other dogs. They become over aroused by the other dogs and less likely to read or even respect the other dog’s communication. This comes down to us humans, not getting the balance right. Not every dog is there for their benefit. Even if the other dog is giving permission to interact, do you want other dogs to have a higher importance in your dog’s life than you do?
That sounds quite odd doesn’t it? I want to be more important in my dog’s life than other dogs. Well, let’s break this down a bit. How can you ever hope to be in control or even have your dog’s attention no matter what, if you have taught them that others are far more fun. How can they interact with you if you have taught them interaction comes from other dogs?
How will your dog ever be able to recall reliably and not run up to every Fido, Bella or Archie? How will they be calm on a busy London street if you haven’t done that all important socialisation? Every bus, moped or scooter could incite reactive behaviour.
My dog needs to be calm in the presence of, and not lose control when she sees, other dogs. This is socialisation. The habituation of external stimuli. Habituation is becoming used to the unusual or making different things the norm. Making them not scary or exciting. Making it normal to pass other dogs and not play. Not with frustration I must add. For your dog to pass another dog and not become upset at not playing or interacting. People in hats, buses, wind, fireworks, going to the vets, the hoover, the doorbell, grooming practices, knowing that the whole world isn’t their play toy and not every single person is there to see them. This is socialisation.
Then socialisation with your dog develops on to being able to communicate, stay level-headed and start to focus on their caregiver/ handler/owner/human/whatever you wish to call yourself, around these stimuli. Here we brush more into training than behaviourism, the 4 D’s. Distance, Duration, Distraction, and Difficulty. Although the two, training and behaviour are so closely intertwined it can be difficult sometimes to unpick them, here we are going to stick with socialisation.
So, what isn’t socialisation?
Well socialisation isn’t going to the park each morning with an over stimulated dog to further arouse by letting them run mindlessly after a ball around other dogs, and then wondering why your dog isn’t listening to you! Or allowing them to run up to any Tom, Dick or Harry. Even worse if said Tom, Dick or Harry then say hello and reinforce this behaviour. Before long you have effectively trained your dog to do this. If the walk alone is highly arousing, then already your dog is about to start what is a huge learning experience on the back foot!
It needs to be calm. Going to the park and creating calm. Meeting other dogs with a 3-5 second rule. Its not about running with other dogs. If your dog can’t listen to your cues such as a ‘watch me’, ‘sit’ or hand ‘touch’ around the other dogs then already its over stimulating for them and more proofing needs to be done on the basics.
So, what will they learn during the experiences? Well basically that the human holds the lead then whatever happens around the other dog is what is expected. If they go in over excited, then the other dog is likely to react to them. You have just allowed Fluffy to have a fearful experience that can likely affect them for the rest of their life. Now when they see other dogs, they will be expecting the same thing to happen which happened last time. The other dog was not very nice to them.
Socialisation is certainly never allowing your dog to get “told off” by the other dogs or letting them “teach him a lesson” this is negligent and dangerous. This can make dogs fearful, reactive, and even dog aggressive in the long run. t is our responsibility to teach our dogs. Not the job of Fido being walked by Karen who, rightly so, has had enough your Fluffy running up to bother her. When we take on a dog its up to us to take responsibility for every aspect of their lives, and socialisation in its true sense is huge. This is our responsibility and not our dog’s fault if they aren’t able to get it right. There is no point in us getting frustrated with them. Its our responsibility to seek help in teaching them these skills.
Socialisation needs to be tailored to the individual, working on their basic cues around different stimuli. Their tolerance or threshold will not only be independent to them but also dependant on how they are approached and the level of work that’s been done in the previous days. Making them not scary or even exciting. Making all these different things, well, just normal and boring!
Make yourself fun and rewarding. Be more fun than the other dogs, be more rewarding than the birds, be the safe place if your dog is upset; not the person that he can’t turn to. Let the potentially scary thing mean your dog turns to you for safety or fun. But most importantly don’t set your dog up to fail, always set them up to succeed. If you set the task so they can win at it they will always get it right.
Below are some pictures of socialisation in its truer sense
NORA LEARNING THAT KIDS PLAYING ARENT SCARY
Playing engage and disengage, keeping a distance, rewarding the calm and not pushing her into a situation where she feels she has no option but to protect herself.
MAX LEARNING ABOUT GOING SHOPPING.
This is often an alien experience and can be highly arousing for many dogs. Max was sitting rather than laying down as he found this easier to achieve. Setting him up to succeed on his first time shopping with Sheba, I didn’t ask any more of him than to remain calm. Reinforcing the calm with carefully delivered speech and food rewards and not allowing other people to say hello as this could overload him. Although Max is super cute, he isn't there for everyone to say hello to, nor are they there for him.
PIP ENJOYING THE PARK WITHOUT BEING ON THE LOOK OUT FOR SQUIRRELS
The Beautiful Pip out on a walk with my daughter, laying down in the park with all sorts going on around her but being chilled and having a fuss. This is socialisation in a park. The habituation on calm behaviours in the social setting. Not going to the park and being over aroused of flooded.
BEING IN THE PARK DOSENT MEAN CONSTANT PLAY WITH OTHER DOGS.
Three well socialised dogs who can remain calm in each others presence. Without the need to be constantly running, barking or playing
“OH THEY ARE ONLY A PUP!”
This isn't an excuse for poor handling, poor teaching or allowing a pup to do as they please.
That last bit sounds ever so harsh! When I say not allowing them to do as they please doesn’t mean I would be forcing them into staying still. What it means is we set them up to succeed. Give them something better to do. Make us fun and rewarding so they want to keep giving us attention.
Otto here was staying in position whilst another dog was running about. A real challenge for a herding cross retrieving breed. At a few months old he was learning that cues can be listened to around distractions and that not every dog is there for his benefit.
A WALK ISNT JUST ABOUT THE PHYSICAL EXCERCISE
Here Luna and Bear were learning that the outside world isn’t for playing with each other. That can be done in the back garden. In the field they are able to lay and chill out if they are not “working”. They don’t need to play 24/7.
As humans we put a massive emphasis on the socialisation around other dogs and even then, the term we use is more appropriate for humans; us getting together for a great old time.
Dogs are not humans; socialisation is about the habituation of external stimuli. Making all those things outside your home normal. If your dog cannot do a hand ‘touch’, ‘sit’, ‘down’ or give eye contact in the home then do not expect it in the park. If you are not important to your dog at home, then they certainly will have no interest in you when you are out.
Perfect it in the home, move it to the garden and perfect it there. Then the street, slowly working toward the higher distraction areas. Always remembering your dog’s threshold. Think of your 4D’s always.