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Socialisation - what is it really?

In the puppy socialisation stage, puppies are curious and investigate their environment.

There is a PURPOSE for this. It’s a survival mechanism.

They must be curious and bold because in this short period of time (up to about 16 weeks) they have to learn a LOT about what is safe or dangerous in their world.

If they learn something is safe – they will be comfortable with it in future.

If they learn it’s dangerous (and they survive the experience) they will avoid it in future.

EMOTIONAL learning is HUGE at this time of their life.

One negative event can stick with them forever.

The more positive experiences a puppy has had, the more they are inoculated against sudden negatives. For example, if they are used to many sounds in a family home, that chair falling over will be far less of a drama than it will be for the puppy reared in a quiet shed.

Few experiences mean they will not get the chance to find out what is safe or dangerous.

As the socialisation window closes, their boldness and curiosity will decline and they will become more cautious. Anything new won’t be boldly investigated, it will be avoided. Their automatic response will be ‘danger’. That’s how animals survive. They seek safety and avoid danger.

I have seen many nervous dogs which weren’t abused. They simply hadn’t had many experiences. When terrified of unfamilar things, dogs can behave as if they have had terrible experiences with those things. Often the problem is that they have had NO experiences with them!

This is why it’s so important to choose enriched, socialised puppies and to carry on that enrichment and socialisation in your home. Unsocialised dogs often lead stressed lives being scared of all sorts of things they should recognise as safe. 

Years ago a kind lady rang for help with her two pups. She got them from a man who hadn’t handled them at all. They were terrified and when she rang me, one had already escaped and run away. She was trying to teach her other puppy that it was much loved. To do so, she held it a lot and kept it with her all the time.

This is called flooding and by doing it she was traumatising the puppy. It was overwhelmed by having to be around her all the time in a strange place away from its family. She actually needed to back off and give the puppy down time away from her, so it could recover and adjust at its own pace.

Would it ever be a social butterfly? Probably not, but there was still time to help it make some adjustments.

Not all poorly socialised puppies show behaviour as obvious as this. Some just quietly avoid social contact. It’s only as they get older that it shows up as more clear avoidant, even anti-social, behaviour. If you choose a cautious puppy, be aware that they especially need careful, ongoing socialisation.



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