Dogs are a lot of fun. They can be loving, energetic, mischievous, playful and can make you cry with laughter at some of the things they get up to. But equally, without the right training, socialisation & stimuli, they can be aggressive, destructive or fearful.
Training and Socialisation are two of the most important things you can do with your dog to make sure they fit into your life and that of your family.
Different breeds have different attributes and these need to be researched carefully before deciding which to get. Why do you want the dog? Who will it be around? Where will it be living and are there other pets there are all important factors when choosing your dog and training it.
Socialisation is the process by which a puppy learns how to recognise and interact with living things i.e. other dogs, people, cats etc. By learning how to interact with other animals the socialised dog develops important communication skills. If getting an older dog, it is important to know it’s background, any training it has already had and the sort of environment it is used to.
Habituation is a process by which the puppy becomes accustomed to environmental stimuli i.e. non living things e.g. cars, washing machines etc.
The most effective socialisation period is at ages 3-12 weeks. This is also known as the sensitive period. Appropriate experiences with people, dogs and the environment are essential during this 3-12 week period if your puppy is to develop into a suitable pet. Failure to receive this experience is a major cause of behavioural problems in dogs later in life.
The importance of socialisation in dogs has been shown in a number of experiments. One such experiment kept puppies in isolation and were introduced to people at staggered intervals:
-puppies introduced for the first time between 3 and 5 weeks were fine
-puppies introduced between 5 and 7 weeks showed increasing apprehension.
-puppies introduced at 9 weeks were completely fearful
-puppies kept in isolation until 14 weeks behaved like wild animals
Similar experiments have shown a similar time scale is applicable for habituation.
Training from an early age is also essential and the earlier you begin with simple commands, the quicker and easier they will pick it up. Training can be made fun and part of play where your dog can also learn basic social skills. This can progress to formal training at one of the many recognised dog training schools. Exercise and walks can also be used for training. Making sure your dog walks to heel and won’t dart off and drag you off balance are simple skills that they can easily be taught. Releasing a ball, sitting or laying down are things that can be practised in the home in a fun way that will benefit both you and your dog.