People talk a lot about the concept of a ‘sociable’ dog, or their desire to ‘socialise’ their new
puppy. But what does this idea actually mean? Say the word ‘socialisation’ and most people
think about their desire to have their dog play with, and to greet other dogs. However, it is a
much more complex than that. Socialisation means exposing your puppy to as many different
environments as possible in a way which creates positive associations for them. The key is to
equip the puppy with essential life skills to be able to cope with the world around them, and
the ability to communicate effectively in situations they may encounter in later life.
Therein lies the rub. Many dog owners reduce ‘socialisation’ to the act of playing,
and are so determined that their dog should ‘say hello’ to every stranger that they place their
puppy (and sometimes the puppies they encounter) in extremely uncomfortable situations.
Letting a load of puppies off-lead together in your local park may sound like a great idea but
what if one of them spends the whole time hiding? Are they going to have positive
associations with other dogs they encounter in the future? Alternatively, what about the
puppy who is crashing into its playmates, and not returning when their owner is trying to call
them away from rough play? What are they learning?
Socialising your puppy is the process of creating a functional, emotionally rounded
adult dog. This includes desensitising them to veterinary equipment, getting them used to
being handled, teaching them how to settle in the car etc. Crucially, it is also about letting
them know that they don’t have to interact with everything that crosses their path. They can
choose when to interact, and when to keep on walking.