by Rachel Taunton // July 2017
When you take home your little bundle of fluff home for the first time, a reoccurring piece of advice is usually the importance of socialising your brand-new puppy. As owners, we want the best for our four-legged friends and making sure the big bad world isn’t a scary place is vital. They rely on you to expose them to the right things and it can often feel like a lot of pressure for a new owner.
But how do we make sure their experiences with other dogs remain positive and give them the confidence they need to become happy adults?
When I first took home my Cavalier, Travis, whose ears were longer than his entire body, we had been told by both breeder and the vets to make sure he was socialised early on. He’s 12 years old now so I was a lot younger and had less understanding about dogs. Travis was quite anxious at first so I slowed down his socialisation because I was worried for his well-being. It took me a while to build him up to being comfortable around dogs. We caught up because I became more confident and as a result, Travis benefited from that too. It’s important to understand that all dogs aren’t going to love each other – these days Travis enjoys the company of most dogs but I know when he’s had enough and when to call him away. Socialisation is all about making good memories with other dogs so your puppy is happy to meet someone new and not fearful.
On the other side of this, there are owners who want to make sure their puppies have lots of exposure to other dogs. Puppies will start to get used to playing with most dogs they meet and come to expect a game of chase every time they see a dog. Therefore it can become a challenge to get their attention once they’ve seen a new potential play friend.
In these cases it might seem that other dogs have become more exciting than the owner. It’s all about finding a happy medium where your puppy is confident with other dogs but also doesn’t expect or demand to greet and play with every dog they meet. They need to be taught that they can’t greet a dog in every situation – this is for safety as well as convenience.
This is where training comes in and while we want our puppies to be able to meet other dogs and play nicely, we also need them to have the impulse control to be able to walk away from a dog. The simple solution to finding balance would be mixing it up a little and work on a basis of 1-2-3.
- Puppy gets to greet and play with a dog.
- Puppy greets and is then asked to move away by the owner.
- Puppy is encouraged to walk past the other dog without a greet.
If we mix it up a little so that our puppies don’t always expect to do the same thing every time and use tasty treats as a reward for coming away from their new friends, we create a good association with dogs but also make coming away from them and back to us enjoyable too. In our puppy classes we practice this. Some weeks we might have a free play where the class can have a good run together and other weeks, they may only be allowed to greet another dog for a few seconds before being asked to come back to the owner. We want your puppies to be comfortable so we keep classes down to a maximum of six dogs to try and ensure that exposure is gradual and we don’t throw everything at them at once. If a puppy is nervous we can let them watch other dogs play until they might feel like they want to get involved and for those who get a little carried away, we use positive reinforcement to have a little time out and settle down before rejoining the group.
We strive to get that balance so that our Dog School graduates are happy, confidant puppies when they leave us.