This is definitely a conversation that is being had EVERYWHERE at the moment, from the facebook posts crying "socialise your puppy or the world will end!!!" to other trainers, vets, bob down the pub, all saying “don’t worry, dogs be dogs!”
So. Here are the bones of it.
Socialisation means learning how to INTERACT with stuff
Habituation means learning how to IGNORE stuff
So. The premise is teaching our dogs how to appropriately interact with things like dogs, people, maybe even cats and horses (depending on your lifestyle). Which involves repeat QUALITY exposure to set your pup up for success. This means choosing your subjects wisely and making sure your pup doesn’t get rewarded for the wrong stuff like jumping up.
We habituate our pups by simply exposing them to stuff we don’t want them to interact with, such as plastic bags, wheely-bins, that log in the woods, in a controlled way and not making a deal of it. This might mean walking past a wheely-bin allowing them to sniff on a loose lead and carrying on once they are done. Don’t make a big deal of it. And hey presto! Dog has ‘met’ the novel thing but learned its nothing exciting.
Now. This being said, lots of people are panicking about socialisation during lockdown.
Do. Not. Worry!
Its actually a godsend!
Ever been to the park and a bouncy Labrador has sprinted across the park to ‘say hi’ by jumping all over you? These dogs have been OVER-SOCIALISED.
In this day in age people are told to take your puppy out as early as you can and let them interact with everything. Have nice positive experiences with every dog, person, thing(!) they meet. This, unfortunately teaches our young impressionable puppies that EVERYTHING they see is for them! They are OVER-SOCIALISED and not habituated.
So. During lockdown, we are restricted on who we can interact with, great! So puppies can safely learn that ‘people being around doesn’t mean cuddles and attention, but fuss and food comes from my human when I pass them!’ you can do this with EVERYTHING. Passing dogs on the other side of the road, passing binmen in high-vis, people queuing up for tescos… anything you come by! Habituation level 1 done! Build your value to your puppy while out in the big wide world!
The restrictions also work in our puppies favour, as we can only go out once! This means we aren’t over-exposing them in a rush to ‘socialise’ them and allowing your puppy to get enough sleep.
Sleep is super duper important, especially for puppies.
Ever had a week of 4 hours sleep a night? Do you feel ready to take on a new day? Or would you rather everyone shhh and leave you in peace. Yeah. Me too.
Dogs are the same – and in lockdown they are able to get way more sleep! Score!
You can also take your puppy to different places (in line with the guidelines) and just sit and ‘be’. Watch the world go by. Spend some quality time together. Give them a lovely positive experience around just chilling! This is something a lot of puppies don’t do enough of.
Then once lockdown is over, your puppy will be in the best possible place, habituation and socialisation wise, to start actually meeting people and dogs! (just don't over do it!)
So many trainers these days are saying ‘DO DO DO!’ instead of just take a minute, chill, breathe, and take the world in.
Don’t be fooled by the ’16 week cut off’. Please. Don’t worry. Its nowhere near as strict as it was once thought to be in the 60’s!
QUALITY of experience is the key. Don’t rush. Take your time. And your puppy will thank you!
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