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Socialisation During Social Distancing

Updated: May 10, 2020

So you are about to or have just gotten yourself a puppy and everyone gets in your hair about the fact that you could not possibly socialise your puppy during times of social distancing. After all, for a dog to be social it has to be able to run around with other dogs for several hours a day. But are we ‘socialising’ our dog by letting them run up to every dog we see?

Socialisation is one of the most misunderstood terms when it comes to our dogs and actually refers to a critical learning period, between 3 and 16 weeks of age. During this time they learn, more than at any point in their lives, how to relate to their environment. Things, noises, people and objects introduced to them during this time in a manner that the puppy perceives to be safe and positive will be easily accepted by the puppy, usually for the duration of their life. And so this critical learning period shapes their behaviour well into adulthood. The same goes for things scaring or hurting the puppy during this critical period – they may well be frightened for life.

Part of good socialisation is not only to teach our dog to be social, but also teaching our dogs WHO it is appropriate to be social with. We naturally do that with our kids, telling them not to talk to or take sweets from strangers. Why would we want our dogs to do the exact opposite?

“But this is natural dog behaviour!” I often hear and while that may be true to some extent, not every behaviour that is “natural” is appropriate.

  • When we are born, we naturally let under us whenever the urge takes us, yet within a few years most of us probably stopped doing so. We didn’t simply grow out of soiling ourselves, we were taught by our parents how to use the toilet.

  • Naturally, your dog may want to poop in your bedroom, but we teach them not to.

  • Dogs left to their own devices will teach other dogs that certain behaviours are unwanted and inappropriate. I have travelled quite a bit and seen a number of street dogs wherever I went. One thing they all had in common was they would NOT come around a corner, spot another dog and rush over to rugby tackle them. Why? Because they have learned from an early age by being told off by other dogs to suppress this natural behaviour.

So you see just because a behaviour comes naturally does not necessarily mean that it is acceptable. Manners have to be learned.

Use this time of social distancing to socialise your dog properly and teach them to be social only with the people and animals they need to be social with, while ideally ignoring everyone else. Being well socialised also means being indifferent to things, people and dogs your dog has no business being social with, being neither over excited nor fearful.

Of course there is much more to socialisation than just greeting dogs and strangers. It is also the time to get your puppy used to all the things and noises they will encounter in their lifetime. A puppy socialised to loud noises during the crucial socialisation period may never develop fear or get stressed during fireworks. Get in touch if you would like help and advice on how to socialise your puppy.

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