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Socialising your dog

- Posted by in Pet Care

Socialising your dog

When it comes to dogs, one personality doesn’t fit all. Like humans, they are complete individuals with their own traits and tendencies. While some dogs will be confident, others will be shy; some friendly and others hostile. As with humans, genetics play a big part in determining personality, just as breed does. That said, many behaviours are very much determined by how much a dog has been socialised, especially during the critical period of 3-12 weeks when a dog is most receptive.

So, what is socialisation? In short, socialising your dog means teaching it to relate to humans, other animals and worldly experiences without being unduly nervous or aggressive. Repeated, direct exposure achieves this and helps develop your dog into a relaxed and happy social butterfly. Both the quantity and quality of interaction is important.

Change can be scary, especially if it happens suddenly, rather than being introduced gradually and in a calm and controlled environment. If the latter situation occurs, over time your dog will come to welcome change with a positive and trusting attitude. If, on the other hand, your dog isn’t socialised early on, change will be met with uncertainty and fear. In some cases, this will result in aggressive displays.

Socialisation should really begin at home and when your dog is still young and eager to learn. The best time to start this process is between 3-12 weeks of age when your dog is receptive and more likely to meet change openly. However, this is still a tender age when the outside world poses many threats, so trying to restrict interactions to the secure home environment is probably the best option.

As your dog gets older, you can continue the socialisation process with regular walks to the park and other sociable activities. Dogs that are slightly older when adopted can still be socialised this way; the process is just likely to take a bit longer. Socialisation is never just for puppies and should really be reinforced throughout life. Circumstances change, people move away and new members join the family, so your dog will always need its good manners to fall back on.

If you have a busy household, human socialisation is easily achieved. Close proximity to your dog, petting and handling, playing and communicating can all help you form a strong and trusting relationship. However, your dog is also going to come into contact with strangers during its life so it is worth encouraging friends and relatives to drop by and spend some time with your dog in a cheerful, non-threatening context.

Dropping treats on the floor as they enter can promote feelings of ease and trust, which your dog should ultimately have every time he meets a stranger. Playful and positive interactions will encourage your dog to feel relaxed and to always welcome visitors with calm enthusiasm.

Introducing your dog to other dogs and animals is a tad more difficult, as we don’t all have friends with dogs we can bring together. Moreover, some dogs are completely fine with other dogs, but react badly to cats and smaller animals. For others, it is the opposite way round. Introducing different animals should again be a gradual process that is approached with caution and care. The secret is to avoid rushing or forcing relationships, as this puts pressure on every interaction.

Puppy classes can really help as dogs come face to face with one another, including dogs of the opposite sex. This allows friendships to be made and reinforces social behaviours. Regular play dates and outings also help with this.

When your dog is old enough to venture out in public, make sure he is always on a lead. While it isn’t illegal to have a dog off-lead, many dog owners think it is inconsiderate, especially in busy, dog-friendly areas or crowded public spaces. No matter how well socialised your dog is, some dogs aren’t and won’t take kindly to having another dog approach them. Neither will some people, for that matter.

It is illegal to have a dog that is ‘dangerously out of control,’ so it is better to always veer on the side of caution. If your dog is on a lead and under control, you don’t run the risk of anything happening which you are later held accountable for e.g. a dog, livestock or human attack. Even well socialised dogs can get excitable and boisterous and it is vital that you continue the process of teaching manners and etiquette throughout life - something that a lead can really help with.

If you have any advice on socialising dogs, please share it with our other readers! Feel free to comment below or email me directly: hannahd@viovet.co.uk

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Comments

4th Aug 2015
  • Customer Since: July 2014
  • From: Suffolk, United Kingdom

My dog Pippa was attacked badly when she was a 9 month old puppy, I now find it hard to read her and how she is going to be with other dogs, she can be fine with some dogs but will react badly towards others, the problem we have is never knowing how she will be. any advice of any kind on how we can spot how she will be towards other dogs be for it all kicks off would be very helpful.

4th Aug 2015

I have exactly the same problem although my dog Ralph was probably about 2 yrs old when he was attacked by dog he knew, he is fine with other dogs he is familiar with but I can no longer walk him of the lead like before as not sure of his reaction to other dogs he doesn't know as he has gone for them as we pass on a lead and sometimes excepts them and wants to play, Any help, ideas or advice also welcome

4th Aug 2015

Zak is a cross German Shepherd who came from a dogs rescue home and been treated badly, age unknown, but our vet told us he was at least two years old.
Our pedigree German Sheperd at 4 months mothered him and kept him in line, he also had to live with two cats which did'nt bother him but other dogs he hated. Zak is now 13 years old and despite therapy at a well known centre in Bristol early on he has not changed. When his female companion died he mopped for 6 months and didn't want to do anything unfortunatel he hasn't changed and is still fiesty when other dogs are around so hiding behind trees and crossing roads when other dogs appear is second nature. We have tried all the so called behaviour correcting scemes but to no avail it just cost us a lot of money.
Any ideas how we might cure him at this late stage or perhaps if he lived in a world of cats where there wer no other dogs he would be fine.
David W.Jeffery.

13th Aug 2015
  • Customer Since: November 2009
  • From: United Kingdom

My rescue English Bull Terrier is the same, fantastic with people, kids, babies, my rescue cats, foxes in the garden but NOT other dogs, in particular male dogs. I thought having him neutered may help but that was 2 years ago and it hasn't changed a thing. We do all that avoidance tactics as well when we see other dogs, like David posted above but the number of people who let their off lead dogs run up to us is unbelievable. I always ask them to please put their dog on lead, the stock reply is..... 'Oh, but my dog is OK'......Duh....... my dog isn't!

16th Aug 2016

I have the same situation as Zak and Archie & laughed when I read if the world was full of cats my dog would not react, ditto for me. I took from a grimy rescue place an 11 year old female staffie, bad previous life, though told can live with cats & dogs & was with another dog when I picked her up, not the truth, cats no problem or any small fluffies, but not dogs, I'm trying all the rehabilitation methods and will always but I feel it's pretty hopeless-I'm always very much aware which make for an uncomfortable walk most of the time. We could do with walking together - we would know how to react to dog fear/aggression. Lastly it would certainly help if everyone trained their dogs on recall.

16th Aug 2016

We have a (possibly around 3 yr old) rescue Staffy Whippet X. Good with people, and most dogs. Very energetic and boisterous, he loves to play but doesn't seem to heed the 'back off that's enough' signs from other dogs, and it has escalated into him biting another dog badly. Too frightened to let him off leash, especially as he runs and runs, always returning but covers a lot of ground very quickly and will approach other dogs! Any help will be appreciated as he is a good dog and deserves to be happy. Thanks you, Gillian.

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