Updated: Oct 27, 2021
Whether you get a puppy or a rescue dog, one way or another you will have to socialise that dog to certain things that they may not have seen before or don't know how to interact with properly. Other dogs, animals, people, cars, busy places, our dogs need to know how to deal with every day situations in a way that is beneficial to them and safe for everyone involved. How do we do that? Well there are lots of different ways but to understand how best to socialise our dog we first need to understand what socialisation actually means.
Dog's aren't like washing machines and don't come with an instruction manual and aren't programmed to be able to simply cope with any and every situation they walk into. If you have a dog then it is your responsibility to teach it how to live in a human world and what is the appropriate way to act in certain situations. Dog's don't speak English and they don't naturally understand how they are supposed to act in human situations that aren't natural to dogs. Going to towns, interacting with other pet animals and understanding what cars, washing machines and hoovers are aren't natural situations that dogs simply know how to react to. Even human children are taught how to act in different situations. They are taught by parents or teachers what is the right way to interact with people and animals, how to talk politely, saying please and thank you, being kind to others and more to teach them how to cope with different situations.
So let's start off by looking at what socialisation actually is:
Socialisation is the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.
As we as children grow up, we are taught each day what is acceptable in society and what isn't.
We are taught if you want something you need to say please and if you are given something you need to say thank you.
We are taught that swearing isn't allowed and that you are more than likely to be punished if you do, e.g. be grounded, get detention.
We are taught that being mean to other people and bullying is not acceptable and is more than likely punished.
We are even taught that out in public you need to wear clothes and shoes!
Socialisation is simply teaching a person or animal how to be a good citizen by giving them the knowledge on what society says is acceptable behaviour and what is doesn't.
This is the same for our dogs.
So what does society say is an acceptable way for dogs to act in public:
-don't bite, growl or bark at people! It's the like a random person on the street coming up to you and shouting at you, swearing at you and then punching you - not okay!
-don't jump on people - not everyone likes being jumped on even if your dog is friendly.
-don't bark at, growl at or try to bite other dogs or animals - we all like our animals and our dogs need to as well.
Those are three basic rules that all dogs out in public are expected to follow and they seem like reasonable requests for dogs to follow.
So now let's talk about how we can socialise our dogs in each of these areas.
1. Socialisation around people
Now socialising your dog around people doesn't mean letting your dog say hello to every person or every person to say hello to your dog. Letting everyone you see stroke your dog, get them over excited and fuss over them seems like a good idea but can actually be quite the opposite and have negative repercussions to your dog. Think about it this way, if you go into town how many people do you talk to if you don't actually know the people you are walking past? Maybe two or three who are generally shop assistants asking are you okay or telling you how much you need to pay their store. What about if you see a person you know? You might say hello to them, maybe stop for a short chat but it stays pretty calm and then you carry on with your day. As children we are actively taught not to interact much with strangers. The same should be for our dogs. If you have a nervous or shy dog and make them interact with everyone they meet, they can easily become uncomfortable, unsure and even start showing fear around people because they really don't want to be saying hi to everyone they see and just want to be ignored and carry on with their day. If you have a really outgoing dog who loves all the attention you can then get a dog who gets too overexcited around people and can also get frustrated if thy aren't able to say hello to someone. Either options are creating the possibility of a not so great citizen. The best thing to do is teach your dog calmness around people and know how to read your dog. If they don't want to say hi to someone, don't make them! People can be told 'no' even if they ask nicely to stroke your dog. If your dog isn't going to benefit from being stroked by this stranger then politely say no and carry on your day. If your dog gets over excited by people, set the rules up for the person and your dog. Ask them not to stroke your dog if they jump up or get excited and make sure your dog sit's, is calm and is only rewarded for being calm and polite around the person. If you know your dog will get too silly politely say no and teach your dog how to act in a calmer situation and then work up to more exciting ones.
2. Socialisation around other dogs
The same rules apply to when you are socialising your dog around other dogs. Think of the same analogy of how many people you talk to when you go into town. For some reason every dog owner believes that their dog needs to say hello to every other dog and again, this can actually cause over socialisation. A lot of reactivity is actually caused by frustration of not being able to say hello to every dog or not actually knowing how to interact politely with another dog because they have been socialised in the wrong way. I have been to Turkey for many years now and the street dogs out there are great examples of well socialised dogs when it comes to how they interact together. Street dogs often walk past each other in the street without even looking at each other because they don't feel the need to HAVE to say hi to each other all the time. Sometimes they may give each other a polite sniff, sometimes if they are in a little pack they might play together but generally they keep themselves to themselves and are very chilled out and calm. For some reason dog owners feel as though their dogs have to say hi to every dog and have to play and be allowed to get over excited about seeing another dog which gives you a dog who is totally fixated on other dogs and gets frustrated on the lead when they can't just go off and play. The best way to socialise your dog with others is teaching them to be calm and polite to each other. No running up to strange dogs, sniff politely, if you are on lead ignore them and if you are off lead politely ask to play and keep play gentle and kind. If your dog isn't socialised or doesn't have a reliable recall, son't just let them off lead to work it out for themselves. The likelihood is if neither dogs know how to socialise well there will be a problem and this is often how reactivity starts.
3. Socialisation around other animals
Now again, simply letting your dog interact with other animals in whatever way is natural to them is not the best way for your dog to learn to be a good citizen. You may think that it is funny seeing your dog chasing birds or deer or barking at the horse in the field but it's not so fun for the other animal or for the owner of that animal who is scared, stressed out or potentially hurt by your dog. Dog's are naturally predators which means they can cause a lot of harm to other animals if they aren't taught not to. Even if you don't have another animal or animals in your house, there are billions of other species of animals on this planet so the likelihood of you coming into contact with another animal whilst out on a walk is very high. As responsible dog owners, we need to make sure our dogs are taught not to chase and harm other animals, there is no room for error. Chasing easily turns into hunting which can easily turn into attacking and killing. It's instinct but it can be controlled and it is your job to teach your dog how to control their instincts. We as owners need to teach our dogs not to chase other animals and that another animal being there is not their concern. The best thing to do is to teach your dog how to control their prey drive. This can be done through some basic self control activities and teaching your dog some solid, no questions asked commands like 'come', 'leave it' and 'out'. No questions asked commands mean your dog doesn't get to chose whether they do it or not. You ask it, they have to do it. The realism is that command and your dogs response could be the difference between life or death for either that animal or your dog. If your dog doesn't have a recall if another animal were to pop out, don't have them off lead. Simple. Find a trainer who can teach your dog how to recall even off of animals and until them they stay on the lead so that they don't cause harm or aren't harmed themselves.
It is totally possible to have a well socialised, polite and balanced dog who can deal with any and every situation you take them into. If you socialise your dog in the right way, you won't have anything to worry about and it is so freeing and relaxing for both you and your dog when you are able to walk into any situation knowing that your dog knows how to act and how to be a good citizen.
If your dog can't do any of the above situations well or at all - drop our team a message and we would be happy to help!