Socialising sensibly

The second topic in the series of blog posts looking at ‘reactivity’, is ‘socialisation.

This in itself is a vast and meaty topic, and one that could be the source of many lengthy discussions…

For the purpose of this blog, and the series… the conversation will be restricted to its relationship to ‘reactive’ behaviour.

Following my initial post, I wish to clarify that the list is in no particular order. Each one is dependent on the individual circumstances and dog. In fact, it isn’t a case of one contributing cause. It could be a combination of several. Or indeed overlaps.

Socialisation, or the lack of, or inappropriate socialisation is most definitely a common factor for dogs that have issues of being ‘reactive’ to other dogs. This reaction may have initially been born from excitement, fear, aggression etc. But the defining factor is the manner in which the dog displays anxiety, concern, fear, excitement etc is deemed as a) inappropriate or b) unwanted.

I cannot over emphasise the need to appropriately socialising your dog, with as many different dogs, breeds, genders, ages, size, shapes and colours….

I genuinely believe that each specific breed or type have a distinct dialect with which they engage. So for example, german shepherds ‘speak’ german shepherd, beagles speak ‘beagle’, border collies speak ‘border collie’ etc…. you get the jist. But each breed or type have their own specific manner in which they interact and engage, in addition to the standard obvious methods of canine communication. As a result, if your dogs hasn’t met or experienced different ‘cultures’, they at best may take a moment to adjust and decipher what is being said, and at worst… show fear and apprehension at this ‘foreign’ tongue.

As an owner, it is my responsibility to ensure that I make a concerted effort to socialise my dog with as many different breeds, types etc as I can. I know from first hand experience that dogs don’t read and understand ‘boxers’. It is not unusual for dogs to randomly fly out at him when he is totally oblivious to them. So as a precautionary measure, I made a concerted effort to socialise ‘Punch’ with as many different dogs as possible.

The reasoning could be a partly by the stigma attached to the breed, and a reluctance to socialise your puppy with one because of it, which creates a pattern associated with all of that breed… then similar breeds etc…then dogs that look like that breed.. or that colour….

Or that you don’t know any dogs of that breed…. so your dog doesn’t quite understand the idiosyncrasy of that specific breed.

The resulting outcome of this ‘breedism’, is that there is a mis-communication when two dogs of different breeds interact. For example, my border collies think nothing of running super fast and nipping each others heels… quite a common border collie trait…. and with each other, its absolutely accepted that this is a ‘game’. However, for my boxer or malinois… this is fighting talk… or could be if they hadn’t spent hours and hours playing and running with border collies.

Socialisation needs to be perceived as a training entity, with as much thought put into it as if you were teaching your dog to do a complex behaviour chain.

The ‘lessons’ need to be thought out, planned and strategic….. The interaction supervised and manage. And allow your dog  space and time to work it out. This doesn’t mean sit back and let things unfold, but don’t rush in too fast. You could be interfering a lesson being learnt or taught. Watching two puppies interact is one of the most interesting and enthralling lessons, you’ll ever learn. Watching dogs be dogs is filled with life lessons. This requires access to well rounded dogs, with great social skills. They are out there. Just reach out.

Socialising requires commitment and last for longer then you’d actually think. You need to work at it. Play dates are a great investment of your time, effort and energy. It would be more beneficial to spend an hour socialising with a well rounded dog with great social skills, then walking in a park where you can’t control the dogs and environment.

Reinforce the appropriate interaction, don’t take it for granted that your dog has great social skills.

Build up to interaction if your dog needs time and space. Reinforcement is key. Reinforcement all the nuances of behaviour that lead up to great interaction….it shouldn’t take an explosion, to get a reaction from you. Reinforce the increments of what you want, and take your time. It isn’t a quick fix, small project to have a well adjusted dog. Its a marathon… not a sprint.

Its never too late, to socialise. Even, if you feel you have missed that crucial moment. It may take longer, and more patience… but its worth the investment.

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