Socialisation or Habituation?

Socialisation or Habituation?

Socialising your puppy is so important. Put the effort in to start, do it well, and you will have a happy, confidant dog. There is a small window and if you miss it or go about it in the wrong way your dog could end up fearful, and potentially aggressive. Not fun for you. Even less fun for the dog.

But when it comes to socialisation have we got it slightly wrong in the way that we go about it? There has always been this cultural fog that as soon as you get a puppy or young rescue you must attend puppy classes or group plays at your local vets or groups in order to socialise with other dogs but we forget that just seeing other dogs is not the job done.

Socialisation should happen and be completed before the puppy’s 16th week. I have come to realise that a better word for this period in a puppy’s life is far better described as Habituation. What we actually want is for our dogs to be comfortable in everyday day situations such as cars, loud noises, umbrellas, skateboards, Cats, people singing, of course other dogs, I mean the list goes on. By socialising I mean training your puppy to remain calm and polite whilst in presence of the above.

The example I love to use is that we all become so obsessed, when we see other dog owners, with getting our dogs to go right into the face of the other dogs to say hello. If you took your 4 year old child on a bus you wouldn't get them to go and say hi and give a kiss to every single stranger on that bus before sitting down would you? It's kind of weird! Instead the best way is for your dog to say hi in their own time but to distract them away with something like a treat or ball to get used to the fact they don't have to run and say hi to every dog they see. This will also help you in the long term with recall, another hot topic a year into a puppies life when we’ve let them have the most exciting time playing and running up to loads of other dogs when they were younger.

Most of the time socialisation, or now as I like to call it habituation, is more about getting used to things, people, animals being around and it being OK. As long as everything is approached in a calm and safe manner your dog will not only be calmer himself but will start to realise you are safe to be around.

I talk a lot about becoming your dogs ‘Safe Place’ and will talk more on this in my next blog post, but this can be a very special tool helping to prevent issues down the line and make for a wonderful bond.