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What Is Socialisation?

Socialisation is a term commonly used when talking about puppies and dogs, I could talk about it for hours, but for the purposes of this blog, I'll focus more on adult dogs. There are many factors that can influence the behaviour of a dog, including genetics, so there is a lot more to behaviour than socialisation alone!

We know that puppies who were appropriately socialised are less likely to exhibit behavioural problems as adults such as aggression and fearfulness, and are more likely to engage in positive social behaviours with humans, and can learn how to play games with humans better than dogs without proper socialisation (1).


Now, what is a socialised dog?


A socialised dog is able to read another dog's body language and respond in the appropriate manner. These are the dogs who do not rush over to all dogs they see trying to encourage play - if there is a nervous dog then a fight could easily break out! If a socialised dog sees a nervous dog, they will will offer calming signals and give the dog their space.

Image showing three dogs showing relaxed bodies and engaging with each other appropriately in play.

Some dogs may be fearful of other dogs or new experiences, and others might love other dogs but turn into a demon when on lead, or try to play with every dog they see.

How do you socialise a dog who is fearful of other dogs? Surely it is good for them to socialise with as many dogs as possible so they can get over their fear? Well, not necessarily. If the "socialisation" is introducing the dog to a large group of other dogs then Flooding can occur.

What is Flooding?


Flooding is prolonged exposure to a stimulus until the dog eventually stops reacting. This is the opposite of the approach taken in desensitisation. It is far more stressful than any of the other treatment strategies and if not used correctly will make things worse. The most common problem is increased fear. This technique should be used only by a professional and only as a last resort (2).


So if putting a fearful dog into a group of dogs can lead to Flooding, how can these dogs learn to socialise with other dogs? This is when we use gradual desensitisation, which is a process over time, and counter conditioning to help change how the dog feels about the thing they react to or are fearful of. I know what it is like to have a dog who is reactive to other dogs, and how tempting it is to speed up the process. However, for the vast majority of dogs, going slowly will lead to the best outcome for the dog's emotional wellbeing and with longer lasting results. If you have a dog who is nervous of people and/or dogs, or gets over excited when they see another dog, feel free to pop me a message and I can see how I can help!


References:


1. Puppy parties and beyond: the role of early age socialization practices on adult dog behavior (2015). Howell, T. J., King, T., and Bennett, P. C.

2. MSD Veterinary Manual.

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