The difference between socialising your dog and your dog being well socialised

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


Proper socialisation of young dogs – part 1

With many of the dogs I work with, their problems stem from inadequate socialisation when they were at the critical age of 5-16 weeks. This lack of socialisation doesn’t become apparent until your dog is around 5-8 months old which is when your pup enters the second fear phase of it’s life. Your previously friendly, devil-may-care pup can then become a shivering shell of his puppy self.

Some dogs, such as the more robust breeds such as Labradors and Staffordshire Bull Terrier can socialise themselves. I say can, and not do, because while some individuals within these breed can, many can’t, so our socialisation should be deliberate, active and ongoing well into the dog’s adolescence and early adulthood. For some of the smaller breeds, this means at least until the dog is 2 years old and for the larger breeds such as Rottweillers, Dobermanns, Mastiff breeds and German Shepherds, this should continue until the dog is at least 3 years old. For breeds like Basenjis, Akitas and the livestock guardians, we need to be even more deliberate as these types of breeds can have a tendency to be a little more standoffish than others. Of course, I am talking in broad, general terms here and there are always exceptions to these statements.

Your pup needs to be used to being handled in a positive way by many people during the weeks 5-12 after birth. Your breeder should have done their part in this process with the pup having met at least 100 people from 5-8 weeks old. People attend the breeders home, remove there outdoor shoes and wash their hands to reduce the risk of parvo and distemper. The pup is handed round the visitors with his dinner and kibble is given each time her paws, mouth, ears, tail and genitals are handled. Men give a few more pieces of kibble and kids give liver treats. That way, the dog learns that being handled is a good thing, women are good, men give better treats than women and kids give the best treat of all.

The pup should be used to all household noises. This should start by the breeder from birth so that when the pup opens her eyes and ears, household noises such as vacuum cleaners, electric drills, TVs music etc are the norm.

When the pup goes to her home, the new owners continue this. The figure to aim for is 100 different people by the breeder from 5-8 weeks old, 100 different people by the new owner from 8-12 weeks old and 25 new people per week until the dog is 2 or 3 years old. The goal is that every new person gives the dog a piece of kibble or two.

In part 2, I’ll outline the necessary steps to take to ensure your dog is friendly with other dogs.