“Socialisation” – the myth Vs the reality

June 30, 2020

Online dog training has really taken off during the past few months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has shown how successful it can be. Until it is evident that it is truly safe, I have made the decision to continue all my classes and 121 services online, because it is working so well….and why risk it? 😉

I have had the odd question from clients booking onto online puppy classes regarding “socialisation”, and concern that an online class will not meet puppies socialisation needs. So I thought it was time to put pen to paper as it were and bust that myth! Explain what that confusing little word – “socialisation” – truly does mean.

Socialisation is about so much more than play

Our initial belief is that puppy socialisation involves the need for puppies to meet and play with lots of other puppies….potentially because the word is so close to another word that we understand – socialising – which is a word used to describe our own social interactions with other humans. In reality….socialisation encompasses so many aspects!

Socialisation as a term can be generally defined as the process by which we slowly and gently expose puppies to everything that they will need to be comfortable with during their adult life. So if you think about this for a minute or two…..there is an awful lot that comes under that umbrella isnt there 🙂 I often prefer to use the word “habituation”, and I feel “socialisation” is rather misleading.

Yes puppies need to learn social skills and interact with other dogs and puppies, but this is a very small part of the what socialisation comprises of. Socialisation in terms of other dogs can also be further broken down as well…..think about how you may want your dog to behave around other dogs for the rest of their lives. Do you want them to always play with every other dog they meet? Most likely not. There are going to be many times where we may want our dogs to greet a dog briefly but then keep on moving….or actually not go and run over to every other dog they see. And this is all part of “socialisation”…. teaching your dogs those skills necessary for them to be able to behave in that way longer term.

Interaction isnt needed to build a positive association

So then what else does socialisation include? Well…..there is the process of gently exposing your puppy to a multitude of people, ideally a wide range of people, so that they are comfortable during their life being around all sorts of people. Tall, short, with hats, beards, glasses, walking frames, wearing all sorts of different outfits, children as well as adult…the list goes on. This list includes people at different, and potentially scary locations, such as vets and groomers. But….puppies do not need to actually interact with all of these people to learn….in fact very often this can be too overwhelming. Exposing pups at a distance and building a positive association with the sight of these people is perfect, and avoids any negative learning from puppies being over faced or overwhelmed. This is where the fact we are currently having to ‘socially distance’ could work in puppies favour as they wont be in a position to be overwhelmed in this way.

Think where you will want to take your puppy throughout their life

Then we have to get our pups used to different environments – parks, supermarket car parks, garden centres, cafes, the beach, pubs, vets….absolutely anywhere that you will potentially want to take your puppy during their life. And again, all this needs to be done gently…..we dont want to take your puppy to the beach and have them crowded by groups of people, causing them to potentially build a negative view of people based on the fear they felt at that time.

Building confidence

Other aspects of “socialisation” also include walking on different textures (concrete, grass, corregated metal, wood, sand, uneven surfaces that move slightly to build confidence), and also gradually desensitising them to variety of noises (both general household type noises such as the vaccuum cleaner, hairdryer, washing machine, lawnmower etc, but also potentially scary noises such as fireworks and thunderstorms).

Socialisation is down to you…not puppy classes

Now….if you look through all those aspects of the socialisation process, you will see that pretty much ALL of it needs to be done by you, in your own time. A puppy class is NOT there to socialise your puppy….it is there to teach you, the owners, what to do. Sure, in an “in person” puppy class we would work on teaching pups to greet for a few seconds and then come away, but I rarely let all the puppies off lead because the potential for them to learn things we dont want them to is so high in that situation. So 99% of socialisation does not take place in a puppy class anyway….that is down to you…..so if you pick a “face to face” class with a trainer who has chosen to run them at the moment over an online class, thats fine, but please make sure that choice is made based on the trainer and their ability and certification and not just because you think your puppy will miss out on socialisation…..because thats down to you 🙂

By Angela Doyle

I am a highly experienced and qualified reward based dog trainer and behaviour consultant based in Surrey, UK. I am a fully qualified CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer) and specialise in helping dogs overcome Separation Anxiety.

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