Socialisation v Habitualisation
Ok, so I’m guessing this may well be a bit of a contentious subject, and I’ve seen arguments from both sides regarding weather now is the best, or worst time to get a puppy. All I will say is that the wrong time to get a puppy is when it’s a spur of the moment thing, or a ‘I know what will cheer me up’ thing, or a surprise gift thing, etc etc!! The right time to get a puppy is after a long period of discussions (with EVERYONE who will be affected) after much compiling of ‘Pro’ and ‘Con’ lists, and after a realistic analysis of who it is who will ‘actually’ take on the downsides and the less glamorous elements; cleaning poo off the carpets, walking in the rain when you’ve a stinking cold, spending countless hours stood in the garden waiting for ‘toileting by torchlight’, sitting on the bench outside while your dog pines after the rest of your family who are in your favourite shop browsing it’s wares, the cost……food, vet bills, insurance, boarding, repairs to elements of the house that get eaten, the realisation that your garden will never look pretty again to name but a few!!
So, let’s assume that for whatever reason, you have a puppy, you had plans for puppy classes, trips to the beach, countless walks daily, plenty of time at work; with pup at home in their crate; giving you some escape from the constant biting, barking, peeing etc etc.
Suddenly……all bets are off. Lockdown. You’re stuck at home, only allowed out once a day for exercise, you’re a runner, so this precious time is allocated to a (cheekily slightly more than 30 minute) run. You’re home schooling you’re ‘less than enthusiastic’ kids, you’re at your wits end……and you’ve got a puppy!! The very thing that was destined to bring you closer together as a family is proving to be the biggest stress you’ve ever encountered!!
Don’t despair……the negative news first……..Lockdown doesn’t look to be about to end any time soon, it’s going to be tricky to get your pup to socialise with other puppies, animals, the vet, public transport and people in general!! You might have to forsake the daily run; and give Joe Wicks a go!! The positive news……there is still a shed load you can do, you should have plenty of time on your hands to give loads of positive input; broken down into little puppy bitesize chunks, now (with social distancing) habitualisation (I’ll explain what this is in a bit) is far easier than it was previously. You have more than enough time to do some research, read some books (on positive dog training) get lost on you tube and put into practice all those great ideas that ‘would be fabulous, if only I had the time’.
So, no excuses. None. Put in the time and the effort, and you really will reap the rewards when ‘normality’ resumes, both, nay, all of you will!!
Socialisation v Habitualisation
You will get regularly informed that your pup needs socialisation, socialisation, socialisation!! This is true……to an extent. But what really is socialisation?? Well, in short, it is encouraging your pup to meet, greet, interact and play with anything and everything!! Good in a way, and certainly better than doing nothing……..but not the be all and end all.
Socialisation is important, we want pup to be sociable and friendly towards anything they’re likely to meet, but we don’t necessarily want them to tear across the park at every dog, squirrel, person, ball, piece of litter etc that they see!!
At the same time, we don’t want them to be terrified of every truck, bang, shout, lift or escalator that they encounter.
This is where habitualisation comes into play, so take pup to new areas, with new experiences. Don’t take them right up to a lift, drag them in it, and force them to ride up and down in it until they quit complaining and just accept it…….that’s not good!! Instead, couple new and positive experiences. Sit 10 metres away from the lift, give treats when they are relaxed, then move closer and repeat. Then stand next to it being rewarded while the door opens, then walk away, next time, step inside, reward and leave. When pup is happy with a stage, do a little more, keep rewarding, keep it positive, and don’t be afraid to go back a step or two if we push pup to far!!
The same process is followed for being in the company of things that really, pup just wants to jump all over, chase and play with. Start at a distance, reward for being calm and for giving attention to you. Then get a little closer, and a little closer still!!
Don’t walk straight up to the person, dog, sheep etc that pup wants to show how well socialised they are with, instead reward them with food, interactive treats and ultimately, play time with the very thing they want to get to, but not until they are calm, relaxed, focusing on us and ready to listen to our consent or invitation to go play!!
If pup learns that the reward comes when you run up to and play with everything you come across, before mum or dad give permission, you’re going to be ‘that’ person in the park that people avoid, “oh yes, I know them……..they’re the people with the crazy dog that runs around like an idiot!!’. More importantly, when they get bitten by the dog on the lead with nervous aggressive issues……it’s your fault, not theirs, not the other owners……yours!! 😔
So socialise, teach appropriate behaviours, but just as, if not more importantly, practice habitualisation, let pup learn that strange things are ok, that new dogs can be played with, when we are calm and await permission.
As a general rule, habitualisation can be tricky with a pup, everyone wants their dog to say hello to the cute little pup, wants your pup to love them more than the next person, but with social distancing, that’s not possible, so teaching pup to be happy and calm when close to other dogs, people and animals just got a whole lot easier to do!!
Use our allowed ‘outside’ time wisely, do the best we can, and vary our encounters and experiences as much as we can!! You’d be surprised how much we can still teach from a distance.
Be that person that of known the park for all the right reasons!!
My next blog will touch on a very real concern for puppies brought up in lockdown……separation anxiety!! Trust me, you don’t want your dog to be a sufferer!!
Get pup used to being on their own, make it fun to be alone……..