What is this Socialisation thing anyway?

Especially in this pandemic there has been lots of talk about socialisation. It is thought that it cannot be done without an in-person class, or that the necessary social distancing measures in place preclude any ability to socialise effectively. Unfortunately socialisation is often mistaken only for socialising… or at least, more concern is put into that dictionary definition 1:

Source: Google “socialisation definition”, OED

While socialising is absolutely part of it, socialisation in the context of puppy schools and dog training we are talking about dictionary definition 2: learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society… so not freaking out when normal thing happens and following rules of engagement.

For puppies (and kittens) we have an opportunity to build stability and confidence with thing through socialisation. This includes introduction, exposure, habituation, desensitisation, in some cases counter-conditioning, and yes interaction… it is about providing experiences with thing in a safe way. Like a stress inoculation that helps develop coping skills for this busy, loud, smelly, texturised world we live in.

With YOU there for support.

Poppins on the obstacle course at puppy school

So what sort of thing should we socialise with? Anything you can think of that a dog might see, hear, smell, and have to cope with; especially things that are known or common triggers for behavioural issues later in life.

You don’t have to provide the full experience of thing, as in some cases this is impossible. Creating experiences with the elements of thing, like sounds alone for example, still contributes to the overall picture  pattern of the thing to help normalise it.

So limited only by your imagination, focus on things relevant to you, your home, community, environment. Here are some ideas of thing to help get you started. Some of these will overlap as we consider the elements.

  • Handling & equipment: all over the body including paws, lips, inside mouth, ears, eyes, under the tail, leashes, collars, collar & tags, collar being grabbed, muzzles, cones/inflatables, harnesses, jackets, hats, nail clippers, grooming clippers, scissors, cotton swabs, bandages, toys, bowls
  • Sounds: weather/storms/wind/thunder/rain, fireworks, barking/growling/howling, meowing/purring/growling, cars, trucks, motorbikes, trains, planes, helicopters, sirens, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers/trimmers/blowers, grooming clippers/nail grinders, baby crying/gurgling/laughing, children playing/laughing/squealing, people loud voices/yelling/crowds, tv, music, construction, doors slamming, doorbell/knocking
  • Places & surfaces: car, moving car short/long, bridges, tunnels, vet clinics, scales, pet store, playgrounds, skate parks, grass, concrete, walkways, bridges, lookouts, wire grates, metal trap doors, bubble wrap, ramps, steps/stairs, pavement/bitumen/pavers, river, beach, sea/waves, pool, cafe/restaurant, fences, gates, witch’s hats, see-saws, tunnels
  • People & animals: tall/short, thin/stout, all ages, uniforms, hats, sunglasses, hi-visibility, disabilities, wheelchairs/canes, prams, big dogs, small dogs, dogs wearing jackets, 3-legged dogs, cats, horses, cows/sheep/pigs, pocket pets/reptiles, birds/poultry, wildlife
  • Interaction: yes, socialising with people and other dogs

We want acceptance of thing as normal, no big deal, tolerance of their presence, neutrality. We want to reward curiosity without creating relevance. Creating relevance means they cannot accept, tolerate, or be neutral – whether in a good way (over friendly) or bad way (becomes “reactive”, shuts down in presence of, or cannot perform without food present). If we create relevance in interactions with people and other dogs, we lose our engagement.

Good socialisation teaches your dog to stay engaged and listening to YOU, despite the presence of other people, dogs or fun/scary thing.

Roxy sees chickens at a distance

Just like you take precautions going out in the world before your pup’s final vaccination, so you can also do socialisation activities before final vaccination and during a pandemic lockdown.

Parker interacting with the world from the safety of his backpack


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