Everybody knows the importance of introducing your puppy to lots of different things and the consequences of not socialising enough. But did you know that too much of the wrong sort of socialisation can cause just as many problems?
Exposure isn't the same as socialisation. Just repeatedly exposing your pup to something in the hope that they'll “get used to it” can actually sensitise your dog, meaning that they'll find it even more scary! For example, no matter how many times I see a spider in my living room it doesn't make them any less creepy!
To avoid sensitising your dog, closely monitor their body language. If they're showing signs that they're uncomfortable (cowering, hiding, reluctant to move, overly panting or yawning etc.) then gently move them further away from whatever it is they're scared of. Let them observe that thing from a distance they are comfortable with and only move closer again when your dog is feeling more relaxed.
Trainer tip: You can use a little bit of yummy food to help make experiences positive for your pooch.
Puppies are like sponges and they're learning all the time - be aware of what you're teaching them! If you allow your puppy to pounce on every single dog they meet and jump up on every person, they will expect to do this every time. Don't allow your pup to practise any behaviours you don't want them doing as an adult. If they rush off to have a high excitement, adrenaline fuelled play every time they see another dog, you will find it very difficult to get their attention when another dog appears on your walks.
Lots of emphasis should be placed on giving your puppy neutral experiences, where nothing scary and nothing too exciting happens. If, for example, every time they get in the car, it leads to something scary like the vets, or something exciting like grandma's house, then the car itself will become exciting or scary. This leads to undesirable behaviours like barking in the boot or refusing to jump in. Lots of short journeys where you don't actually end up anywhere, such as driving to the petrol station just to fill up with your pup, will help your puppy relax.
The same goes for other dogs, people and different environments. Take your puppy somewhere and just spend time relaxing with them and watching the world go by. See lots of different people and dogs walk past without ever interacting with them in any way. This will help teach your puppy that being around them is boring and spending time with you is much more fun!
Socialisation is about teaching your dog to be comfortable and relaxed everywhere you take them, not to be over excited and unable to sit still. Practise makes perfect!
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