Puppy socialisation training
- Credit: Archant
You have to make sure your puppy has some socialisation training, says gundog training expert Howard Kirby. Follow his tips to ensure your gundog is well behaved around people and other dogs
In the last three articles we’ve taken a look at getting your puppy to focus on you, develop meet and greet skills and learn some basic training. I thought it’s about time we had a think about the much neglected – but very important – subject of puppy socialisation.
Young puppies are taken from their littermates at eight weeks old, and for many it is their last and only opportunity to gain a really good insight and education into how to behave around other dogs.
The recent arrival of a new youngster from Battersea Dogs Home, Buck (AKA Devil Dog) the terrier, has allowed me to witness and re-visit the problems faced by puppy owners with dog-to-dog socialisation.
Buck is just 18 weeks old and he has come roaring into my happily-balanced little pack with the social skills and aggression of a wild rhino that’s been slapped on the backside with a big stick! He’s no bigger than a small labrador puppy but he charges around barking, growling, biting and climbing on all of my dogs, irrespective of their size and social status. It’s fascinating to watch. Tashi the German long-haired pointer is huge but surprisingly he’s terrified of the little devil – Tashi rushes and sits as close to me as he can, as if saying: “Help me, Dad!”
Monty, the two-year-old cocker, had a zero tolerance approach to his rude behaviour. The first time Buck charged at him, Monty flipped him onto his back, put his teeth gently around his throat and growled, “Don’t Buck with me, sonny.” You guessed it: Buck now treats Monty with the respect he demands.
Ruby, my little four-year-old cocker bitch, initially lay on her side to greet the little puppy but as he launched into her she leapt up and snapped at him. Good for you, Ruby; just what you’d expect any auntie that’s being abused by a brat to do.
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Woody, the playful two-year-old springer, thinks that Buck is brilliant – the perfect younger brother. Woody views Buck as the very latest in wind-up toys: he charges at Buck, bangs him with his nose then baits him into a game of chase. This really presses the little hooligan’s buttons and he tears around after Woody, barking furiously and biting at his flanks. For the time being at least Woody can outrun, out-manoeuvre, body charge and wear out Buck at will, but I fear he is playing with fire!
The most interesting and surprising behaviours of all have come from Dexter the staffie, another ex-Battersea dog. The bull breed in Dexter makes him very intolerant of any aggression aimed at him, so Buck gets very short change if he’s rude to Dexter. But for Dexter, the arrival of Buck has encouraged a self-promotion to Pack Enforcer and Social Policeman. The normally playful, social, needy Dexter now watches every move that the two idiots, Woody and Buck, make, and the moment he deems that the two are playing too rough, he quite literally body-checks the pair apart and struts around between them with his chest puffed out and hackles raised: “That’ll do lads, just play nicely.” Incredible; I think Dexter has just become all grown up and, as it happens, is playing a much-needed role in the pack.
Whilst all this pack stuff is going on, Sam, Carrie and Henry do their upmost to stay clear of all the nonsense, very quietly mooching around the paddock doing their own thing.
Buck’s anti-social behaviour emphasises just how important it is for your puppy to mix and socialise with well-balanced dogs. Pack law is simple when you know what, who, when, where and how to engage with other dogs, dependent on their mood. It’s a learned skill; puppies get this through interaction and experience with other dogs.
Already through trial and error Buck is learning these all-important life skills, and although some of the lessons are fairly tough, it’s important that both myself and my new-found assistant Dexter ensure that any dog-to-dog interactions that Buck is involved in are supervised, well thought through and safe.
For us here at Mullenscote this is fairly straightforward, as there are plenty of dogs of all ages and temperaments for him to socialise with.
If you haven’t read it already, take a look at the gundog training article in May’s Sporting Shooter entitled Meet and greet. You need to mix your youngster with other well-balanced dogs to give him the canine social skills that he will need as part of his balanced upbringing. This isn’t just other puppies; he needs to mix with adult dogs too and you need to ensure that you choose the right dogs to introduce him to, but DO NOT take him out walking off lead and allow the puppy to rush up to every dog, person or animal he sees. In fact, he needs to learn to mind his own business, to ignore and walk on by, to leave strangers alone and learn to make friends politely, gently and safely.
Our canine cohabitants and gundogs have loads to learn and it’s tough for them as we remove them from their families and foster them into ours. So do your best for your puppy; he has to learn how to interact with humans and all of our unusual habits as well as gain all the social skills needed by a dog. Make sure he mixes with the right sorts and ensure you educate him properly to make sure he grows up to be the well-balanced individual you would want him to be.
It’s so important that you give your puppy the opportunity to learn how to interact and play with other dogs. Plan and do this carefully; we are aiming to teach the puppy to want to prioritise and play with us rather than other dogs.
Meeting other like-minded dog walkers, inviting round and visiting friends and fellow dog owners and joining well-managed puppy socialisation and development sessions with your dog are some of the methods that we can build into a training regimen that develops a well-socialised dog.
Train the puppy to want to be with you rather than craving to rush to others. This is really easy to do if you start correctly from the outset.
By Howard Kirby