What is socialisation?
Socialisation is the process whereby an animal learns how to recognise and interact with its own species, i.e. dog to dog, other species such as cats and people. This interaction helps each learn the body language and communication skills of each other.
What is habituation?
Habituation can be described as the process whereby an animal becomes accustomed and desensitised to environmental factors so it learns to ignore them. This includes visual stimuli and sounds such as thunder, fireworks, doorbells etc.
Sometimes the term socialisation is used to encompass both the descriptions above.
Why do I need to ensure my dog gets sufficient socialisation & habituation?
Socialisation and habituation are essential to ensure that dogs become well- balanced companion animals. It helps them to deal with new situations it may encounter in the future and helps them deal with the range of people and experiences within its environment. It helps prevent future problems of nervousness or aggression.
How do I ensure my dog gets sufficient socialisation & habituation?
Socialisation and habituation starts with the breeder. Once you own a puppy you should implement your own programme, exposing your dog to as wide a range of experiences and positive encounters as is possible. See checklist.
This exposure should start immediately and become diverse as soon as the puppy is fully vaccinated. It should continue ideally throughout the dog’s life but essentially up until sexual maturity.
I have an older dog, is there anything I can do for him/her?
Yes behaviour modification and re-socialisation programmes can be implemented, although you may need the help of an experienced dog trainer. Older dogs can be desensitised to unfamiliar or frightening situations gradually, but it will never replace the benefits of early socialisation.
My dog had a bad experience, what should I do?
Do not try and comfort the dog or react fearfully yourself as you will confirm the need for fear to the dog. The dog may look to you for guidance so remain confident. The dog should be re-exposed to the situation gradually and possibly from a distance so it becomes desensitised to it. Always praise or reward the dog for not showing fear and not reacting to the situation, or if it does react, as soon as it recovers from its fright.
What else might affect socialisation?
Breeding, temperament of both parents, health both currently and as a puppy, involvement in training, diet, exercise, environment in which it was raised and lives, experiences as a puppy and adult.
Did you know?
Dogs are able to understand up to 250 different words and gestures.
Did you know?
Dogs use a variety of methods to communicate including body language, tail wagging and facial expressions.
Here are a few general points that will highlight basic principles that apply to all dogs, and this is followed by exercises that have been found to be very effective in teaching recall.
- Never ever call your dog to show annoyance. Always be show you are absolutely delighted that he has returned.
- Before returning, your dog must turn away from whatever he is doing. Remember that some distractions, particularly smells and sounds, are beyond our awareness AND may be more interesting than you.
- Avoid calling your dog back to “do nothing”
- Teach your dog that coming back does not always mean ‘end of fun’. Call him back often when out walking; put him on the lead, then let him go free; offer him a variety of rewards when he comes back and generally motivate him to WANT to come when called.
- Try different signals as well as just calling him. A whistle can be very effective.
- As with all training, work slowly and steadily; make it enjoyable; don’t get frustrated – just take a break and start again later; don’t repeat something that isn’t working and always remember your dog is an individual.
There are many ways to teach your dog to come back.
The simplest and easiest way is to:
- Teach your dog to enjoy being held by the collar. Do this simply by gently holding their collar, click and treat
- When they are relaxed about this, call them to you in your home, grip the collar, click and treat
- Next try calling him from further away, still in your home; then extend to calling him from another room. Make sure you do this as a game.
- Now try the same routine in your garden
- Now try the same routine in a different place – but no distractions
- Gradually increase the number of locations
- Introduce distractions
- Teach the dog to touch the palm of your hand. Each time it does so, click and throw the treat away. The dog will run out, take the treat and return to repeat the action. As they run back be sure to encourage them and use your “recall word”
- If your dog is oriented to a particular toy. Call them, show the toy and encourage them to come so your dog can play with it (and you). This works very well if your dog likes a tug toy.
- Have someone stand a distance from you. That person should hold the treats and your dog should be aware of that. Call your dog. At first the dog will stay close to the treats but will eventually give up. As soon as your dog comes to you, your helper should immediately give you the treats so you can reward the dog. This will teach your dog that they get the reward by going to you and not seeking out the treat.
Crate training your puppy/dog
Crate training is a safe, secure way to train your puppy and a safe haven for them for when you are not around. There are a number of great reasons to use a crate with a new puppy, here are just a few;
- A crate is a safe, secure area for your puppy to be, when you can’t give him your full attention
- It can help speed-up house training
- Its somewhere for your puppy to go when he needs time out
- It’s a secure den for your puppy to retreat to, safe in the knowledge that he can relax and won’t be disturbed. (You should ensure children and other pets leave puppy alone when he is in it.)
- It’s the perfect way to protect your house from damage, due to inappropriate chewing!
- A safe secure way to transport your puppy and keep your car clean!
- Acclimatises your puppy to a crate for visits to vets or groomers.
- Ideal to use for those breaks away, its familiar to puppy and the holiday home is safe from your puppy!
How big should the crate be and where should it be?
- The crate should be big enough for your puppy to fit in comfortably when he is fully grown, room to stretch out and have a water bowl and interactive toys in.
- You need to place it in a convenient, but quieter part of the house, so puppy can still see and hear what’s going on, but is able to relax as well.
- Also a good idea to have it reasonably near an exit to the garden, for quick access, or carry him out to the garden in the early stages to save any accidents.
Introducing the crate
- The crate needs to be as comfortable and inviting as possible for your puppy to build up positive associations with it. Put a soft towel or vet bed in the base, both easily cleaned. Always have fresh water available; place a couple of safe toys in the crate; a stuffed Kong is useful.
- Put some newspaper in the base, separate from the vet bed (half and half if possible). If your puppy does need to toilet and cannot attract your attention, he will not want to go on the vet bed, but will probably have used newspaper for this purpose before he joined your family. Change this paper each time it is soiled (wait until your puppy is away from the crate, do not comment or criticise the puppy for using the paper. He has to go somewhere if you are not available to let him out).
- Initially leave the crate door open so the puppy is free to come and go, use tasty food treats to encourage him – start with them near the door and gradually move them further back once he is happy entering. You can introduce a word such as kennel or bed at this stage, so that he can begin to associate the word with the action!
- Do not rush this stage – if your puppy is not happy to go into the crate, do not force him, that will set up bad associations. Take your time in ‘explaining’ to him that it is a safe and fun place. Most young puppies are very happy to go in the crate, especially if they have been used to spending time in a whelping box whilst with their littermates
- Do this several times during the day. Feed him his meals in the crate. Stuff a Kong with tasty treats and put that towards the back of the crate, if he is comfortable at this stage, you can push the door too. Stay around at this stage and try to ignore what he is doing, so he doesn’t think it is a big deal.
- Depending on how comfortable your puppy is at the above stage you can begin to close the door for short periods at a time, always ensure puppy has been toileted before, so you know he won’t need to go out for a little while, also a good idea to have a little game with him first, so he is tired. Again use a Kong or put his meal in with him.
- Begin to go about your day as normal with puppy confined, if he begins to whine or bark, remember to ignore him. Only go back to him when he is quiet, if you go back to him when he is being noisy, he will learn to keep barking for longer and longer periods until you return!
- As long as you are careful to ensure good positive associations with the crate, your puppy should quickly become happy to relax as soon as he enters the crate. Puppies quickly learn to sleep through the night in the crate and are usually clean very quickly.
- On returning to the crate to let puppy out, try to be calm and not make it a really exciting time, this may lead to unwanted vocalising/whining as he anticipates his release!
- Take puppy straight to his toileting area to help speed up his house training.
Your puppy should not be left for long hours at a time in his crate, 3-4 hours during the day is a maximum. Initially he will need to come out of his crate frequently during the day (every half hour/hour or so) to toilet, but as he gets older he should be able to go for 2 – 3 hours before he is going to need to relieve himself. Once he is used to the crate, he should happily go through the night. If he does whine and fidget during the night, get up and take him to his toileting area, keeping it as calm and low key as possible and as soon as he has performed return him to bed.
The crate is not for use as a punishment, but can certainly be used for time-out if puppy has become unruly or is over-tired. It is also a good idea to use the crate at (human) meal times to avoid over excitement at these times; use a stuffed Kong with part or all of his meal to keep him occupied.
Just how much exercise is enough for your young puppy? It is fair to say that by the time your puppy is allowed to go out after his vaccinations then the urge to run him ragged must be uppermost in most owners minds as the pup has become stair crazy being coped up indoors. It is a big mistake to take your new puppy for a long hike when he is very young in the hope of tiring him out. His young bones and joints are just not developed enough to withstand this. He will become over tired and grumpy. You may hurt the pads on his feet and he may well end up with an aversion to going on the lead.
Two fifteen minute walks are adequate for a young pup – couple this with some mental stimulation in the form of dog training and this will give you a happier pup. Work up to taking your pup on two thirty minute walks when he is six months old and when he is an adult you can walk him for as long as you want. If you read everything you can about your chosen breed you can take what is said too literally about working breeds needing a great deal of exercise – they do – but that is for an adult dog and not a young pup. They also benefit from mental stimulation as well as physical stimulation.