TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL? WHY ALL PUPPIES NEED SOCIALISATION.
If we had R1 for every time we’ve heard the words, “But I have a little dog. Surely he doesn’t need training?” we would be outrageously wealthy.
The reality is, if you want a dog who is never exposed to new people or other animals, never goes for walks, never visits the park and is locked up when the family eats or when guests come over, then no, your pup doesn’t need any socialisation. But if you want a well-adjusted furry family member who can be trusted to remain calm in any new situation or environment and can share all sorts of experiences with the family without becoming fearful, boisterous, aggressive or unmanageable, your baby needs Puppy School!
The first 4 to 4.5 months of a pup’s life are equivalent to the first 7 years of a child’s life. This time frame is when they need to be exposed to as many new experiences and environments as possible, in a positive way. Trying to start this process at 6 months of age may not have the same favourable outcome.
Socialisation starts at birth. A good breeder (even if this person is your neighbour whose bitch has had pups in their home) will take the time to introduce the pups to different textures, noises, and will handle and interact regularly with them.
Wherever possible, inspect the breeder’s facilities so you can be sure the pups were not simply left to their own devices in the yard, with no human contact, for those first vitally important weeks in their development.
Additionally, avoid taking your puppy before he or she is 8 weeks old, as Week 6 – Week 8 is when they start learning bite-inhibition and appropriate play from mom and siblings. This will be a vital piece of the puzzle in how your pup interacts with human family members and other dogs, throughout his life. Single or hand-raised pups, or those who are taken before 6 weeks are really on the back paw when it comes to learning bite-inhibition and play; they are like children who have been given no boundaries.
DIFFERENT BREEDS AND SOCIALISATION
By far the biggest factor in ending up with a dog who suits your needs as an individual or family, is research, research, research! Finding out about the breed or type of dog you are planning to bring into your household will go a long way in determining whether puppy-parenting turns out to be the wonderful, enriching experience you hope it will. Or whether it will bring heartache and frustration and possibly end in you re-homing your pup (or another family pet). Socialisation can only do so much. Your pup’s natural breed characteristics will always come into play. You cannot expect a Pit Bull puppy to behave in the same way as a Golden Retriever, or your Beagle pup to have the same level of focus on obedience work as a German Shepherd. Take the time to learn about what makes your chosen breed tick, what can reasonably be expected of them in training, what sort of rewards they respond to and so forth. This will make the socialisation and, later, obedience training, a much smoother process. A good puppy school trainer will also help new puppy-parents to manage their expectations of their fur-babies.
WHAT IS PUPPY SCHOOL ALL ABOUT?
Puppy school brings together a number of different aspects. The primary purpose is for pups to socialise with other pups and with other humans, besides their owners and expose the pup to the world through a series of positive experiences. The socialisation part may look to the outside observer like simple playtime with pups enjoying play and interacting with each other. But a skilled facilitator has a keen eye to pick up which pups are timid and which are overly exuberant, and knows how to group pups of similar sizes and/or dispositions so that their experiences with each other are fun and interactive, but never overwhelming. Knowing exactly how to read puppies’ body language and social cues is vital, as a frightening experience at this tender age can result in the puppy struggling with behavioural problems throughout his life. Puppies need to be able to get stuck in and revel in their play, but also know that the humans in the mix can support them, should they feel out of their depth.
Another important aspect of Puppy School is some obedience skills. This is the owner-centric part, as we humans wish to have well-mannered pups who not only understand dog-to-dog interactions but can function in the human world too. We want our pups to be able to go to the toilet in appropriate places, eat their meals when we want them to, return to us when we call them in the park, walk nicely on the lead, not re-landscape our gardens or freak out when we take them to the vet or groomers and greet our friends and family politely. Puppy socialisation gives pups a good grounding in developing all of these skills.
Various experiential things are covered as well: pups are taught to be handled by different people, have their ears, feet, mouths, etc. examined in a positive and kind way, (which stands them in good stead for future vet and groomer visits), they are exposed to noises, umbrellas, children, bicycles and other potentially “scary” things they will encounter, they have the opportunity to explore various obstacles, including those at different heights and filled with water…. everything to ensure that your pup grows up to be a well-rounded canine citizen.
Lastly, and possibly most important of all, is the pet-parent education aspect. Dogs don’t speak human languages and they think and communicate in very different ways to what we do. As the humans in the equation, we are the ones who need to learn to communicate better with our pup, rather than expecting them to read our minds and know what we expect of them.
HOW DO I CHOOSE A GOOD PUPPY SCHOOL?
These days puppy school classes should always be based upon positive reinforcement training, where positive behaviour is rewarded to reinforce it, and negative behaviour ignored or distracted from in a kind manner. Compulsion training (or Alpha-dominance training) where dogs are rolled on their backs in forced submission, and where equipment like shock collars and choke chains are employed, should be avoided at all costs. Also steer clear of doggy “boot camps” where your dog is sent away to be trained by someone else. You have no control of what’s going on there, what methods are being used and who is working with your fur-baby. Also, you miss out on the opportunity to build a truly special bond with your pup as you learn and develop together.
There should be no more than 6 pups per qualified trainer (eg groups with 8 pups should have two trainers) , who can identify problem behaviour in play and intervene appropriately in order to ensure that all the pups have a positive and enjoyable experience and have enough time to spend with each pup and their handler.
The environment should be safely fenced off and include shady areas and plenty of drinking water.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER SCHOOL?
Diligently completing Puppy School classes and then forgetting about your dog’s training for the remainder of his life is like sending a child to Grade 1 and expecting him to enter the adult world, fully equipped for success. There are many advanced training options available to continue your pup’s education and keep him stimulated and developing throughout his adult years. Dogs enjoy learning and challenges, just as we do. Be sure to complete both the initial Puppy 1 course (from around 10 weeks of age) and the intermediate course, Puppy 2, from 16 weeks. There will be a loss of momentum if you only complete the first course and then wait until 6 months before starting an advanced form of training or sport. Obedience training isn’t the only option; research your breed and what sports, activities and clubs may be available to join. Think scenting work for Beagles or field trials for Labs and Retrievers. You might also look at clicker training, trick training, agility, the Canine Good Citizen Programme, or possibly even find out whether your dog may be a candidate for training as a Therapy Dog.
Whether or not you elect to continue your dog’s education, spending quality time with him or her on a daily basis and consistently reinforcing the basic commands and framework for acceptable behaviour learned in Puppy School is imperative. And here’s a tip from our experts: a “Sniff Walk” where Butch can meander along at his chosen pace, happily downloading all the messages on the pavement and enjoying the sights and sounds is infinitely more beneficial than a 5km run, and utilizes the pent-up mental and emotional energy that is the true crux of frustration-related behaviour like digging, chewing, incessant barking, etc.
If you’re not able to devote quality time to your dog every day due to a demanding work schedule, investing in a Doggy Day Care programme is highly recommended, if not daily, then at least a couple of times a week. Your dog needs to be exposed to different environments and experiences on a consistent basis to avoid boredom and frustration and, being pack animals, dogs also relish the opportunity to socialise with their own kind. Doggy Day Care will significantly enrich the time you are able to spend with your dog.
Twisted Whiskers recommends Smart Puppy for expert puppy socialisation classes. Many of our staff have taken their puppies through their classes over the past 20 years and can vouch for the excellence of their programmes and trainers. A number of different venues are available around northern Johannesburg and classes are offered at different times, and over the weekend, for the convenience of their clients. The Smart Puppy website includes some great content on a variety of training-related topics which new puppy-parents find most helpful: www.smartpuppy.co.za
For info and bookings call 083 306 4599.
© Written By Twisted Whiskers