Our lifestyles have changed over the last few decades and so have our lifestyles with our dogs. As such, we need to consider changing the way we rear our dogs if we haven’t done so already.
The sensitive period of socialisation is between 5-16 weeks old, with the more crucial period being between 5-12 weeks old. As I have written in previous posts, your dog should be meeting about 200 new people who give the dog food to classically condition the pup to strangers during the 5-12 week old period.
Classical conditioning should be done with our puppies in all circumstances and novel situations until your dog is around 2 years old for the smaller breeds and until 3 years old or older with the large and giant breeds. We can socialise our dogs to the Nth degree but if the dog is not learning what we are wanting the dog to learn during this period, i.e. that novel stimuli are not something to be feared, our efforts could prove fruitless.
I worked with a woman recently who has a collie who is very reactive to other dogs and people. The woman socialised the dog a lot when she was a puppy, had her at the dog park every day and lived in a busy city community which the dog had regular exposure to. Now this dog may be genetically predisposed to being a bit more flighty than many other dogs but classical conditioning during puppyhood and adolescence may have made the dog much more emotionally robust than she is. She had been socialised to a great deal but she isn’t well socialised which is indicated by her behaviour. She hadn’t had any adverse experience with other dogs or with people which may have caused her fear that the owner could think of.
Every time we have a young dog or a dog we have recently rehomed, in order to protect against or minimise the dog becoming fearfully reactive we should be doing loads of classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is such a powerful tool in dog training and behaviour modification and I am a huge advocate of it as you probably have realised from previous posts. It is relatively easy to do, we we just feed our dog/puppy it’s dinner one piece of kibble at a time in the presence of novel things, and don’t feed it when the novel thing goes away. It has a greater impact if it’s done when the dog has neutral feelings towards the novel stimuli but it is also hugely powerful when used to counter condition a dog to something he is fearful of as the dog only needs to “be” rather than “do”.
Until next time
Yours in happy dog ownership