Over the years it's been drummed into people to socialise their puppies, people think they need to get their puppies and dogs out and get them loving people and other dogs to have a well-rounded pooch, but is that socialisation?
So what should appropriate socialisation achieve?
Puppies should learn they feel safe and that their owners will get them out of scary situations. Puppies should learn about various environments and sounds.
Puppies should learn they have choices and options.
Puppies should learn to read and respect other dogs communications
Puppies should learn they can be calm whilst in the presence of other dogs and people.
( Picture below is from my Social Walk Group)
Puppies should learn which behaviours are appropriate or inappropriate through education by the owner with the guidance of a qualified dog trainer/behaviourist.
So what could inappropriate socialisation achieve?
Puppies that become bullies in their play styles ( usually because they are worried themselves)
Puppies that are shy, can feel scared and insecure, even if after 15 minutes or so they seem to settle in, that's not a good introduction.
Puppies that become over-excited and over-aroused when out and at home.
Puppies can get injured as they ignore the no thank you cues from other dogs.
Puppies that are scared can start to use aggressive behaviours in desperate attempts to keep others away.
Puppies can run up to humans and jump when someone may be scared of dogs, which can lead to legal ramifications for the owner.
Puppies may start barking, jumping, pulling, biting, and tugging on the lead in frustration when they can't get to the things they see as fun.
Puppies can respond less to their human's attempts to engage with them.
Puppies can be pushed to physical exhaustion which is damaging for their bodies and brains, even if getting a peaceful afternoon seems to be a bonus for the humans. In order to get a puppy 'Socialised' many people start in intensive exposure, certainly in the first 16-week sensitive period when most people feel that this is an all or nothing period in the puppies development.
However, what if I told you that this sort of socialisation is making up a large number of my behavioural work cases. When it comes to poor behaviour both inside and outside the home, the issues many well-intended people were trying to avoid can be created.
It's also very common for many of these dogs to have attended some kind of socialisation group as the owners have tried hard to prevent issues. However, my clients always hear me say " if I wanted my children to study for an exam, would sending my kids to a club 18-30's be the best environment to teach calmness and focus?"
It's very common for many new Dog Trainers or even established well-meaning Dog Trainers to offer playgroups and socialisation groups. I have also seen Socialisation Groups, Breed Specific Group Walks and Puppy Parties offered by other dog professionals with little to no experience or qualifications in Training or Behaviour. Offering these sessions can be seen as an effective way to bring new client traffic to businesses! However, puppies emotional development is far more important than teaching them tasks or drumming up business, this part of their development can make or break both them and your relationship so the choices owners make will be vital.
I sadly know of heartbreaking situations where dogs have lost lives and had to be euthanised because their behaviour was so severe because inappropriate training and exposure was the main factor in their behaviour, that should never, ever be the case!
Now I am not totally against intimate and appropriate socialisation groups , far from it, but how it's done has to be the biggest priority. New puppy owners have it tough and really need their wits about them.
Just because someone is offering a service, how reputable is it, how good is it, and what are the goals and experience in achieving those goals.
It can be tough to figure all that out when you are new to all this yourself. Here at Speak Dog, we have looked at how we can help dogs and owners gain valuable experience but in ways that support good social skills. This is where our Social Walk Group came into play.
We only allow a very small number of dogs and humans that come along to learn how to experience the world, people, and dogs in a safe way where they ALWAYS have choices.
We use the outside world to offer safety, proprioception exercises and help owners to encourage puppies to engage in species-appropriate behaviours. Puppies should be supported in learning good communication and coping skills, I don't feel groups of off-lead puppies sometimes even more worrying mixed in with inappropriate adolescent or adult dogs are the best place for babies to learn the above skills mentioned.