Why Puppies and Dogs Need Socialisation

June 27, 2016 at 6:00 am
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You might be familiar with puppy classes, but most people think they cater to making a dog less afraid of other dogs. What you might not know is that it’s actually much more than that. There are critical periods in a dog’s life where at different ages it has the instinct to isolate itself from dogs and humans if exposure to a natural pack isn’t provided.

Most people take their dogs to puppy classes and it’s often in the safe haven of a vet environment where every dog is vaccinated. But because of the fear of catching a deadly virus, dogs are often denied the critical 3-6 month off-lead dog exposure. I say critical because research papers regularly quote information that if a dog isn’t regularly given off-lead play with a multitude of friendly (preferably different breed and age) dogs between 3-6 months, it will always mistrust dogs and people to some extent.

A dog’s real dog mother usually does a great job up until about 8-10 weeks, but after this dogs are usually given to new owners. If a dog isn’t regularly exposed to other dogs during the 3-6 month period it will feel isolated and go against the natural instinct to be a pack animal. This means that when it is later exposed in off lead situations it has a great deal more stress than usual and will often resort to a fight or flight response. In dog terms this means being anxious and too submissive, or fear aggressive leading to bites.

If an owner does diligently make an effort to keep up the socialisation of a puppy, they often cease visits to dog parks between 6 months and a year. I would hate to say that the puppy cuteness honeymoon is over but that seems to be the main reason.

For the whole of a dog’s life, if you want it balanced and able to deal with any dog encounter, they need a daily long off-lead walk, three times a week, not once a week, not once a month. For many people this is terribly inconvenient, but so is ‘bad’ dog behaviour they will develop at home from boredom. These behaviours are not the dog’s fault, but rather a response to a lack of adequate exercise.

A social dog is such a delight that there are very few places that you can’t take a dog because of their behaviour. It is only humans who prevent these from happening.

Many people think they are doing brilliantly by taking a dog out to a park for 30 minutes twice a week, or walking their dog on lead every morning before work, but these are simply glimpses of what a dog really needs to be friendly and social. Humans rarely forgo satisfying their own social needs, yet they forget that dogs are even more of a pack animal than they are. The major problem for dogs is that they can’t ‘reason’ as well as humans as to why they are denied regular dog access. They will internalise this, unfortunately trusting that their owner’s know best. They will also have no idea why they are quickly becoming territorial, anti social, barking ‘crazy’ liabilities.

Every time I take a pack of client’s dogs to a dog park, I can tell which ones are walked off-lead regularly and which ones have either obvious or hidden anxiety. That said, I also see the dramatic increase in a dog’s social skills even after a few walks per week over a few months. They won’t be 100% social but they are getting there towards the 80-90% acceptable social level.

Dogs like to hide pain and fear as much as they can, but there are many tell-tale body language signs of their social anxiety, as well as the way they greet new dogs in the park.  They don’t even know that their own anxiety is coming off as fear or unbalanced in a park, but two unbalanced dogs meeting often results in a fight and bite situation.

Many people breathe a sigh of relief when the puppy stage is over and they don’t ‘have to’ go to the dog park to burn a dog’s energy ‘so the house isn’t destroyed’. However they fail to understand that an adult dog needs regular off-lead dog walks just as critically as puppies. Instead of learning socialisation, they are maintaining it.  And of course an upset adult dog is far more likely to do damage to itself, other dogs or humans compared to a social dog.

It is a curiosity as to why in Australia dogs are given away to shelters or abandoned. People regularly blame the dogs, but invariably it’s because a dog is no longer ‘nice to be with’. The really unfortunate thing here is that all dogs are nice and natural, until they are inhibited by their owners/ guardians by lack of walks.  Yes, it can be that simple. A mistreated or ‘not quite social’ dog can come back towards being more social by regular park excursions (under a diligent experienced dog person).

Any dog owner can choose to walk more with their dogs, but many don’t understand the wonderful benefits from something as simple as an off-lead walk. Yes it takes time and patience, but that is why we bought the dog, right? To be the best owner we can be and build trust with the dog, isn’t that a noble goal? To be responsible dog owners means knowing what a dog’s basic needs are, and off-lead walks are just as important as feeding them high quality dog food, maybe even more so.

BIO:  Bruce Dwyer is a professional dog walker based in inner west of Melbourne Australia. From an original career in Electronic Engineering and Corporate Marketing he chose to concentrate on the dog service industry. His company ‘Dog Walkers Melbourne’ has been in business since 2010 and was based on providing the best dog walking and pet sitting solutions for people in Melbourne. The only two times that he has been away from his own dog, he has used his own 24 hour pet sitters.  His own dog Archie (an 8 year old spoodle), enjoys TWO dog walks per day with many of the images and videos from his daily off lead dog pack walks featured on the following sites:

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