Probably the biggest mistake most new puppy/dog owners make is to socialise their dog incorrectly. There is a massive collective thought backed up by online advice that says that your new puppy/dog needs to play or physically interact with other dogs to become ‘social’.
The idea is that within a group of dogs your puppy will learn the correct social etiquette and develop into a dog friendly dog. Pretty much all, puppy or dog training classes end with ‘playtime’.
We aren’t the fun police! Your dog definitely needs to be around and ‘socialise’ with other dogs as part of its development. However, the ‘playtime’ or ‘make friends’ method is fraught with potential pitfalls.
Most dogs are entered into this ‘socialisation’ process at approximately 3 months old. Just after they have completed their course of vaccinations. At this age, a lot of puppies are being exposed to so many different and wide-ranging stimuli at a time when they may, due to immaturity or genetics, be anxious, nervous or stressed easily. It is a development stage that can shape how a puppy perceives the world.
In our opinion, based on years of training reactive or fear aggressive dogs and also raising our own puppies, the ‘playtime’ system achieves the opposite of the desired effect the majority of the time.
‘Consider the potential outcomes on different temperaments of puppies/dogs.‘
The best outcome is that your happy confident puppy, when released within a group of dogs for ‘playtime’ will not be easily overwhelmed. So, they will have a whale of a time running around, involved in all sorts of rough and tumble with other like natured dogs. At this point your puppy has started to learn that this is great fun and to start to focus on interacting with other dogs. They will learn that dogs are more ‘fun’ than humans which is going to cause you the owner problems in obedience, especially recall in a dog rich environment. It is also worthy of note that as your confident puppy becomes more and more focused on saying ‘hello’ to every dog they see. The law of averages is that eventually they will run up to and try to engage with a reactive dog! Learned behaviour/experience is a massive contributor in creating reactive dogs, and your confident puppy could very quickly become an anxious or reactive one, through one bad experience.
The worst outcome is the effect ‘playtime’ socialisation can have on a genetically anxious/nervous dog. Already suspicious of the world and easily stressed, this type of puppy can very quickly become overwhelmed within a boisterous/playful group of dogs. Owners, under the misapprehension that ‘playtime’ will ultimately boost their puppy’s confidence, coax and manoeuvre them into greeting the other dogs. Dogs have very few tools to deal with unwanted attention. Running away isn’t an option because most classes are in a secure area. Unable to effectively exit the situation, the anxious puppy will quickly learn that varying levels of warning or aggression are required to maintain a safe space. At this point, the owners or trainer understandably intervene to avoid any physical harm. Sadly, the mental damage has already been done.
Dogs are impulsive animals and most dog owners spend a lot of time trying to control their dogs unwanted impulses throughout life. It is worthy of note that these ‘socialisation’ classes are the biggest impulse building exercise at the most influential stage of a dog’s life.
We mentioned above that we aren’t the fun police. We believe that ‘fun’ should be an interaction between dog and owner/humans. Dog’s need to be neutral to other dogs. Neither too happy or unhappy around them. If you would like to learn more about socialising your dog correctly, whatever their temperament, then stay tuned for future articles.