When people think about socialisation they may just think that it is when doggies meet other doggies. But socialisation is so much more! It involves accustoming puppies and adult dogs to all kinds of social scenarios and environmental influences in the human world in a controlled way so that they learn not to fear them. Many of the reasons rescue dogs are so fearful is because they have not been correctly socialised from a young age. For this reason owners of nervous rescue dogs must be aware of the triggers which frighten them and do their best to avoid them if possible or introduce gradually in a way which will not overload them.
The same way humans see more danger as adults than children, so do us dogs. There is a very important window of time in a puppies developmental life that involves introducing them to as many stimuli as possible to minimise irrational fear of them. This window is before the puppy is 12 weeks of age. However it is difficult to expose a puppy to other dogs when it is not fully immunised so care has to be taken when introducing new dogs at this early age.
Things like the sound of traffic, trips to the vets, the hoover and trips in the car are all examples of things that can scare us if we are not introduced to them from a young age. Therefore all these types of every day occurrences should be introduced to us in a way that will not overload us. For example turn the hoover on when the puppy is in the house but in a different room to where the puppy is in. That way he or she can come in and investigate but get away if they feel they need to! Remember if we get a really bad fright from something it can develop a life time fear so make every interaction as fun and non threatening as possible. Adding food to most potentially scary situations usually helps make it a positive one!! We love our food!!
Meeting other dogs
Ideally puppies should meet dogs that are dog friendly and like to play. Otherwise a fear of other dogs may develop. Play dates with friends and neighbours dogs are a great way to teach dogs how to socialise correctly and build positive association with meeting other dogs. They also help tire us out!! Us dogs have a language all our own which we speak to each other (more on this at a later stage) so don’t feel too alarmed if there is playful growling or barking. That is all part of the game! Do supervise play as sometimes we can get too rough and things can escalate beyond play!
We love humans as much as they love us because they cuddle us and give us treats. Therefore socialisation with people is generally very straightforward. People should not allow us to nibble on their fingers or clothes as this is not a desirable behaviour and we can hurt you with our sharp teeth! Instead provide an appropriate chew toy and have a little play around with it.
Jumping up is something that shouldn’t be encouraged. Especially with dogs that are going to grow big. It may seem cute now but not when they are 30KG and don’t realise that they are! Puppies that jump up when greeting should be ignored and the person should turn their back until all four paws are on the ground. They should then immediately turn around and praise the puppy but repeat the same pattern until the puppy learns it only gets attention when on the ground and not when it jumps up. Again some food will help us learn faster here by rewarding us with a treat and a cuddle when all four paws are on the ground.
Finally remember to be patient with a nervous rescue dog. Nobody knows what they have been through in a previous life and they may have a good reason for being fearful of something which we might find silly and unnecessary. People are often fearful of things they don’t understand or have had a negative experience with and dogs are no different. With your help however you can show them that that world is a fun place to be and that you will look after them and keep them safe