“Many dogs spend too little time with their friends since they were puppies. Dogs should have the opportunity to be together from the beginning, both puppies and adults…..The company of other dogs while growing up is without a doubt the best training we can give our pet." "Social and environmental training are two of the most important elements of proper puppy development"
Since my friends found out about my interests, I often hear: my dog is aggressive, fearful, does not like the company of other dogs or is afraid of people, how to deal with it? I then ask them if, to what extent and at what age the dog was socialized as a puppy. Most continue to answer the question "And what does it eat with?"
I do not doubt that in most of the cases I know of, the dog has been socialized to a greater or lesser extent. Even though, from the owner's point of view, it happened unconsciously. And so I recently heard from a friend who couldn't understand why his 2-year-old Basset Hound was fearful of dogs if they were of the same species! Well, for some, the mere fact of belonging to a species is enough to feel comfortable and safe in the company of "their own". This female dog, on the other hand, loves the company of other people of various types, before whom she does not show the slightest fear. During the interview, I found out that throughout her life the female dog practically did not leave his side: he took her on vacation, to work, to friends and even to some restaurants. When he was forced to go on business, even for a few hours out of town, he never left her alone. So it's hardly surprising that she is so well socialized with people who, due to her specific appearance, pamper her at every step, well, "she has such a sad look". Further, I find out that from an early age, she rarely had contact with other dogs - there was no such need. Is it hardly surprising now that she does not feel comfortable in the company of other dogs, since she has not had the opportunity to interact with them and learn about the norms there?
That is why it is so important not to miss this important "period of special sensitivity", commonly referred to as the socialization period, which lasts from the 4th to the 12th week (some sources put the 16th week as the end of this phase. The truth is that the period of socialization ends when there is an increase in fear of new places, events and it is an individual matter for different races). As Staney Coren writes characterizing this period: "all the events that happened and those that did not happen will shape the dog's behavior forever."
Were the behavioral problems my friends mentioned avoidable? Of course it is - by introducing an appropriate socialization plan, which is being developed on an increasingly large scale by kindergartens for puppies.
“The results of research prove that puppies who attended dog kindergartens grow into dogs that are much easier to lead. They very rarely get into fights with other dogs, they are not aggressive towards people and they are much better patients when veterinary intervention is needed.
Let's look at the issue of the goals and objections of creating dog kindergartens through the prism of the main problems reported by dog owners.
Mainly, I would like to focus on the problem most often raised by the owners, which is aggressive behavior presented by their charges towards other dogs or people. Such behavior of pets can cause a lot of problems for owners. Therefore, we should start learning very early - still in puppyhood.
Can participation in dog kindergarten classes help prevent our puppy from growing into an aggressor? Of course it can. However, improperly conducted, it can have the opposite effect to the intended one.
A well-organized dog kindergarten is a great place where puppies have the opportunity to play and learn the correct reactions. The primary goal of creating dog kindergartens is to teach dogs how to interact with each other, group rules, ways of communicating, including calming signals, and how to control bite force. Puppies learn very quickly what they can and cannot afford. A puppy that is bitten too hard stops playing, letting the other puppy know that such behavior will not be tolerated. They also learn to present and interpret different postures and body language. If you do not give them this chance, they may misinterpret signals sent by other dogs in the future, which in turn may lead to conflict situations. Turid Rugas draws attention to the importance of being in such a group in order to learn proper communication, using calming signals. This science is to provide puppies with proper education. She believes that if puppies are allowed to be in a group like this, they will become adept at using calming signals in the future. Such courses are an excellent prophylaxis against aggression.
The purpose of establishing dog kindergartens is also the proper education of owners. They often complain about minor problems - the dog does not have to be aggressive to cause problems in the normal functioning of the family. Just recently, one of my classmates asked me a question. How to wean a puppy from sleeping in a bed? How to stop him from biting my hands, furniture, clothes. After all, he's already 18 months old - shouldn't he be able to do that? When I asked if the dog had and ever had its own bed, and if it had its own toys, she replied: "No, but it must?"
This makes us aware of the importance of at least basic education of the owners in terms of: individual stages of puppy development and critical periods, the importance of proper socialization and its time frame, learning signals sent by dogs, knowledge of basic equipment, health and care issues, knowledge of about positive training and its benefits. Often the owners themselves ask many questions (probably the most common is how to wean a puppy from doing its own things at home).
The issue of proper socialization of puppies with people with whom puppies will meet every day as adult dogs is also very important. Couldn't aggressive behavior towards people be prevented through proper puppy socialization? If you introduced your puppy to all kinds of people: men, women, children, people in different clothes, carrying different things. And if these people turned out to have "pockets stuffed with treats" that they would not spare our pet, would the experiences positively imprinted in the puppy's consciousness (I emphasize - positive experiences) not make them - as adult dogs - cope with better when meeting new people? (assuming, of course, that the socialization process will be a conscious process and will not end with the end of the critical period, but will continue through the adolescent period). Blanca (my 2.5 year old female West Higland White Terrier) loves people, especially children. It is hardly surprising, however, no one could resist a small, white ball on a walk. Especially the kids came to play with her, stroke her, gave her treats (which I carried in my pocket). Until now, when he sees children coming home from school, he runs to them, only to fall onto his back right under their feet.
A puppy during the socialization period should be exposed to various stimuli, have the opportunity to be in different places, ride different vehicles, touch different surfaces. In short, the puppy should be familiarized with everything it may come across as an adult. At this point, it is impossible not to refer to a special socialization program, called the "Golden Dozen", developed by Margaret Huges, which facilitates planning the puppy's socialization. It consists in exposing the puppy to the maximum number of different stimuli up to 12 weeks of age. During this period, the dog must be socialized with dogs so that he knows he is a dog himself, but he must also be socialized with humans - so that he learns the norms of the human pack.
It is impossible not to mention one more important advantage of dog kindergartens. An experienced trainer guides the course of play in a thoughtful way, which puts the puppy in various situations. Through his observations, he is able to spot potential behavioral problems and suggest ways to work with the puppy.
However, in order for participation in such activities to bring the expected results, appropriate conditions must be created and rules must be followed. Bad experiences can ruin a dog's psyche for life. It is extremely important, as Grzegorz Firlit writes, to pay special attention to the proper handling of a puppy between 8-10 weeks of age. During this period, the puppy's brain is particularly sensitive to negative stimuli. First of all, competent trainers are the most important, they conduct sessions, watch over the course of classes, they must be good observers and be able to react appropriately at the right time. The age range of the group must be strictly observed so that the older puppies do not bully the younger ones. Instructors should control the discipline of the classes so that the little ones learn the positive things, not the negative ones. Owners also learn to judge when play becomes dangerous for the dog. Groups cannot be large, it is good if the group does not have more than 4 - 5 puppies. It must also be properly sized. Imagine an eight-week-old Newfoundland puppy and a Chihuahua puppy of the same age playing together in the same class. Play sessions should not be too long. It will be better if they are short and the puppy will get a positive experience from them. The instructor must maintain order - if aggressive situations occur, he must react appropriately by stopping the fun.
In Turid Rugas' classes, she is accompanied by her dog Saga, who, as she writes, keeps an eye on troublemakers and if she notices a pup being violent, she steps in to separate them. Here, however, the trainer should be aware that the dog must be properly trained and safe.
Kindergartens based on traditional methods can do more harm than good. Any jerks, the use of spikes, the use of violence cause the dog to stop trusting the handler, and it may also become an aggressive dog in the future.
Classes should take place in a secured, fenced area, and all owners of puppies who participate in the training should present a health certificate and have current, age-appropriate vaccinations.
“Animals are genetically programmed for good relationships, as long as they are given the opportunity, so that innate predispositions can develop at the right age. Owners of "socially deficient" dogs complain that they are "too dominant" or "too agitated" around others. What they don't realize is that they didn't teach them the right behavior when there was time."
Looking through the prism of behavioral problems in adult dogs, I conclude that many of them could be excluded by the owners by attending appropriately organized dog kindergarten classes with their pets. Creating dog kindergartens is equally important from the point of view of educating the owners themselves, who often lack basic knowledge about raising puppies. However, improperly organized activities can do more harm than good. For those who doubt the need for proper socialization, I suggest visiting a dog shelter. There are many such dogs that have not been able to "fit in" to the human world, precisely because of the lack of proper socialization. Failure of the owners, not the dogs!
In conclusion, I would like to cite one more example illustrating how the lack of proper education of the owners in the field of socialization can "distort" the dog.
The dog of one of my friends (golden Labrador named Shadow), residing in South America, was deliberately isolated from other representatives of its species. When he was a puppy he was bitten, and then his owner, fearing for his safety, completely eliminated contact with other dogs. For 2 years Shadow all he could see was his backyard, which, to make matters worse, was separated from the rest of the world by a concrete wall. Because he was brought to her house at the age of 3 weeks, hand-fed by humans, and then deliberately isolated from his species, he completely lost his identity and ability to communicate in "dog" language. The socialization balance in his case was completely disturbed. It was sad to see what happened to that dog. I would go so far as to describe the "humanization" of the poor creature in this case. I remembered what S.Coren wrote about imprinting. What belief occurs in the duckling's brain when, during the critical period, after hatching, all it sees is a red balloon? "I'm exactly the same, I can feel it, I can have offspring with it" - literally!
Author: Edyta Gajewska
- Terry Ryan, Kirsten Mortensen "Outsmart Dog", Galaxy, (Łódź 2007, 2008)
- Turid Rugas, Calming Signals. How dogs avoid conflicts”, Galaktyka, (Łódź 2005)
- Stanley Coren, "Secrets of the dog's mind", Galaktyka (Łódź 2008)
- Jean Donaldson, "The Dog and the Man. How to live harmoniously under one roof”, Galaktyka, (Łódź 2007)
- John Fisher, "A dog's eye", National Agricultural and Forest Publishing House
- Grzegorz Firlit, "Strachopies. A guide to dealing with a timid dog”, Book and Knowledge, (Warsaw 2008)