Monday, 22 November 2010

Socialisation, what is it? And meet Ditto!

Socialisation, what is it? And meet Ditto!

Meet Ditto (Devongem Does It Again) who arrives next Saturday.

Along with the excitement of getting a puppy, to me there is always one thousand and one thoughts buzzing around my head about the best way to create a well mannered, happy, sociable, fun and healthy dog. In the D-force puppy lessons we focus a lot on socialisation, perhaps one of these most misinterpreted areas owners initially have when buying their puppy.

Socialisation is defined as ‘The process by which the individual acquires the knowledge and dispositions that enable him to participate as an effective member of a social group and a given social order’

In my experience, socialisation goes wrong when owners go ‘dog hunting’ and ‘people spotting’ in which puppies are given free roam to ‘play’ endlessly with another dog or person. This has several common problems:
  • Huge value is created in playing with another dog. Often so high any reward we offer is no match.
  • This often leads to a dog with no re-call (the most important thing, as responsible dog owners, we can teach our dogs).
  • Further results may include an inability to relax in the presence of other dogs and new people.
  • Dogs learn to become either ‘victims’ or ‘bullies’ around other dogs.

To me, socialisation is teaching social norms to our dogs in situations they will encounter during daily life. So instead of ‘dog hunting’ Ditto and I, as well as all D-force puppy owners, will be doing lots of socialisation training. Where correct, well mannered interactions will be rewarded and less well mannered behaviour will be ignored, result in the end of the game, be interrupted or redirected (knowing the best option of what to do at this time can not be taught but comes from an understanding of the dog you are working with at the specific time).

The results of incorrect socialition can be clearly seen in my local woods, where dogs have free reign to ‘play’ often leading to scraps. It is therefore up to us to teach our dogs how to behave/deal in this situation. 

With puppies, we have a very short critical socialisation period (modern theories suggest up to 16 weeks of age), in which the brain acts like a sponge absorbing new experiences and environments (habituation). After 16 weeks socialisation and habituation still take place but at a lesser rate.

The importance of early Socialistion is shown clearly by the Guide Dogs for the Blind, who, until 1956, used to rely on the donation of adult dogs which they took on approval to maintain their training stock. The success rate of these dogs fluctuated between 9 and 11 percent and it was recognised that this could be improved if the association could supervise the rearing of puppies. These were purchased and placed in private homes at between ten and twelve weeks old or even later. Things improved, but the results were not good enough. It was Derek Freeman, who pushed to have puppies placed in private homes at an earlier age to optimise socialisation and habituation during the critical development period. Derek had a strong belief in Scott and Fuller’s work and importance of early socialisation and habituation in the production of dogs that were best able to survive and perform in the world at large.

As with all things doggy, a balance needs to be found and advice found in books or from trainers is often taken to literally. A level of free play is essential in creating a puppy who is going to grow up to understand other dogs, play and be happy with dogs in their space. Let’s not forget puppyhood is all about fun!
So this leads me to a few questions and decisions I will have to make with Ditto: are puppy parties beneifical or counter productive in the rearing of a well mannored soicable puupy?

I am very greatful to Lauren Langman for being such a fantastic and dedicated breeder. Giving these puppies such brilliant early socialtion/habituation from people to car rides and dogs to noises.

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