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Puppy socialisation and training

It is extremely important to socialise and train the puppy in his early days to ensure a happy and balanced relationship between him and his pet parents.

Period of socialisation…

Socialisation is a lengthy learning phase during which the puppy acquires all the behaviours needed for life in the pack. This stage begins at the age of six weeks and ends arbitrarily around the age of four months.

Imprinting the puppy…

The puppy is born into the world not knowing to which species he belongs. He has to identify with his species. He will acquire this information in a unique, almost irreversible learning process, which is called ‘imprinting’. A poorly imprinted animal is a lost cause for the species. This learning process occurs through games with his brothers and sisters and his mother. As an adult, this will enable him to recognise his sexual partner and to avoid rejection with other members of his own species.

If, however, a puppy is raised with other species (humans, cats, rabbits, even a stuffed animal), he may end up identifying with the species with which he lived. If there is a complete absence of other dogs between three and more or less sixteen weeks, the puppy will identify with the nearest species (human, cat, rabbit), or even a decoy (stuffed animal).

As an adult, this will lead to social preferences as well as courting behaviour and attempts to mate with the species he identifies with and aggressive behaviour towards his own species.

In order to avoid this type of situation, the puppy must be raised in a group, with his mother, until he is at least eight weeks old.

Socialising with other species…

Dogs are not programmed to interact socially with a foreign species (cat, human, rabbit). Hence, it is important for them to socialise with other species, especially with different types of people (men, women, children). This interaction must continue until after two months of age. The interactive presence of other species will lead to inter-specific socialisation and attachment that goes against predatory behaviour.

House-training a puppy…

Starting from the age of two months, that is, after the puppy’s first vaccinations, the puppy should be taken outside. He should be taken out every five to six hours when he first wakes up and after meals until the age of four months. At first, choose a place or even a newspaper that is saturated with the puppy’s own odour. In the beginning, as soon as the puppy relieves himself at the desired place, he should be systematically rewarded either through voice or by petting. The technique of using newspaper inside the house should be banished because the dog will associate this with the place of elimination and stick to it. Even if he goes out, he will wait until he goes back inside the house to take care of his needs. When out walking, never end the walk as soon as the dog has taken care of his needs, because he will quickly learn to associate needs with the end of the walk.

Training to obey by reward or punishment…

In order to be effective, the reward method must adhere to several principles. The reward should be significant for the dog. In other words, the pet parent should praise the dog through contact and abundant caresses and speak to him warmly. It should be exceptional in nature, such as giving unusual treats.

As for punishment, in order to be effective, it should be used when the dog is caught in the act and should be given out at the same time. It must be unpleasant in nature for the dog and must be meted out systematically for every punishable act, which is sometimes very difficult since the pet parents do not always catch the dog in the act. Punishment after-the-fact will cause anxiety and will aggravate the situation. Punishment can be direct, for example, grabbing the dog by the skin of his neck, which replicates the maternal behaviour and shaking him by lifting him up slightly. Contrary to popular opinion, it is possible to give the dog a slap of the hand. It is also possible to punish a dog from a distance by throwing a non-dangerous object that will make noise at him.

Learning by reward requires more time than punishment, but on the other hand, it sticks longer. When punishing a dog, it is necessary to recognise the submission position because at that very instant, punishment must immediately stop.

Teaching obedience is easy…

Dogs must be taught to come when they are called and the ideal age to start is four to five months. Some dogs do not come when they are called. They come to within a few meters of their pet parent and stop. As soon as the pet parent approaches the dog to catch him, the dog runs away again. Do not become annoyed and certainly do not punish him or he will associate punishment with having come back to you. On the contrary, when he comes back, you should praise him, pet him and above all, you should not immediately put him back on the leash. Instead, let him go back to playing. If every time he is called, it means putting the leash on and going back inside, it will be a punishment for him.

The need to be “detached”…

When a puppy is brought into a home, he becomes attached to a person and vice versa. By the age of four to five months, you must prompt separation. If this is not done, as soon as the puppy is separated from the person to whom he is attached, he will become panicked and distressed. Start ignoring him 30 minutes prior to departure. When you return, if the dog jumps all over you, push him away and do not respond. As soon as he is calm, then act happy to see him and pet him. If he has caused damage, act as though you do not see him, even though you may want to punish him.

Rules of living in the house…

He must eat alone. He should not be allowed to beg at the table, but he should have the right to be present when his owners eat. He should not be allowed to jump up on beds or sofa without permission from his pet parents. His sleeping area should be located in a quiet spot where he can rest. If he nips at hands, you should stop him from doing so and firmly push him away. You should also avoid tug-of-war type games (with a toy, a piece of stick, a rag) because this encourages biting, which is far from desirable for a future companion animal. You should not pet a puppy on demand. As with play, it is up to you to decide when to play and to initiate contact and petting.

Socialisation of your puppy

Socialisation is the term we use to describe how a dog learns to relate to people, other dogs and his environment. Your dog will keep on learning throughout his whole life, but puppyhood is the time when experiences—good or bad—have the biggest impact on him. These experiences are critical to your puppy’s future, and will have a long-lasting effect on his behaviour throughout his life. When you get a puppy, make sure you have time to invest in an intensive socialisation programme during his early weeks with you. Socialising your puppy is very important, and a worthwhile investment in your own and your puppy’s future, as you’re laying the foundation for the dog’s behaviour later on in life. In this case, it’s very true that prevention is much better than cure. Also, socialising your puppy is great fun, and serves as an excellent chance for you to get to know him really well.

Let’s take a look at how you can socialise your puppy:

When to start Start socialising your puppy as soon as you get him. Don’t worry about his vaccination programme being a hindrance to socialisation. Using your imagination, you can still start socialising your puppy without compromising his vaccinations. How? You can do much of the early socialisation in your home. Also, you can minimise the risk of your puppy contracting an infectious disease by carrying him when he’s outside your home.

Situations where your puppy will need to be comfortable

Think of all the situations and environments that your puppy will need to be comfortable in: riding in the car, meeting the mailman, having contact with the children next door (and children in general), walking along the street, tolerating large trucks and cars, large animals such as cows and buffaloes, etc. vacuum cleaners, and washing machines – just to name a few. You are basically aiming at preparing your puppy for all eventualities so that whenever he encounters anyone or anything new, he’ll greet it with inquisitiveness rather than fear or aggression. Expose your puppy to all sights and sounds gradually, and allow him to explore and learn for himself; for example, switch on the vacuum cleaner in another room to avoid startling him with a sudden loud noise, and let him go find it. Make sure that when he finds the vacuum cleaner, this is a rewarding rather than a threatening experience. You can easily do this by placing a piece of food next to the vacuum cleaner. If your puppy is quite shy and frightened, you can start off by placing a snack next to the switched-off vacuum cleaner, and then work your way towards your puppy tolerating it when the machine is switched on.

It’s essential that your dog be completely comfortable being with people and children. So introduce him to all sorts of different people. Let him meet people of all descriptions: bearded, thin, overweight, tall, wearing hats or glasses, carrying bags, pushing bicycles, etc.

It is, however, important that children be taught the rules of handling puppies; an adult should always supervise children and dogs. Dogs may actually see children as a different species than adults, because they move, speak and react differently than adults. Start slowly by spending time in and around children’s parks where your puppy will learn the sight and sound of children playing. Start by having just a few children around your puppy, then build up to a larger number.

It is, of course, unrealistic and even impossible to expose your young dog to everything he’s likely to meet in the future. However, if you can teach him that new experiences are pleasant, he will grow up learning that unknown things and situations are something to explore, rather than to be fearful of. But don’t be surprised if your previously confident puppy starts to show apprehension towards objects he was fine with during his juvenile period (at approximately 14 months of age, depending on the breed), since this can be normal in some dogs at this age. If this happens, it’s important that you carry on with your socialisation programme by regularly re-exposing the young dog to novel experiences.

Interacting with other dogs

It’s also essential that your puppy learns to interact with other dogs correctly. Puppies, like all young animals, love to play, and games play a vital role in a dog’s development. Dogs develop their canine communication skills through playing with other dogs as puppies. Through playing, dogs learn the behaviour of not biting. When puppies play physical games, they soon learn that a littermate or adult dog will not tolerate sharp teeth pulling on ears or neck. If a puppy “bites” another dog too hard, he will get a quick reprimand, with the other dog stopping the game for a brief moment. A puppy soon learns to limit the strength of his “bites,” and will stop biting too hard when he’s playing with other dogs.

You and your family should continue teaching your puppy not to bite. Whenever your puppy uses his teeth on your skin, you should respond with a sharp yelp of pain (even if it doesn’t hurt!), as this will teach your puppy to learn that touching human skin with his teeth is not allowed, no matter how gentle he is. Also, the game you and your puppy were playing should stop for a moment, which will help your puppy quickly learn that to continue having fun he must not “bite” you.