ARE YOU CONFUSED ABOUT HOW TO GIVE YOUR PUPPY
THE BEST START TO LIFE?
OR IS YOUR DOG OFF THE RAILS AND YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO?
I speak to confused and frustrated dog owners just about everyday - and have done for more than 20 years.
This week was no different. A lovely lady called me looking for help with her adolescent dog. Like many, the family had been taking him to dog school each week before we all got locked in our kennels. Each week, his behavior would get worse. Not only at the dog class, but at home and in the street. The owner told me she was asked to stand out of the group and settle her dog each week and to "just persist, he'll get it eventually."
So here's a tip for free that I gave her and I'll give everyone. DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME with dog classes. Worse still, DON'T RISK YOUR DOG'S welfare.
Why? There's a heap of reasons - here's a few.
Owners get told they MUST take their dog to puppy school and / or dog school to "socialise" them.
Is socialising important? Absolutely. Is dog school socialising? Basically never.
Let's take puppy school for example.
All things being equal, your pup is about 3-4 months old and apart from siblings from birth, has little exposure to other dogs. So they tell you to bring your wide-eyed new family member to "socialisation" class. Where generally there might up to 10 dogs in a small room.
Here's the first problem.
Do you anticipate EVER in your dog's life being in a small room with 10 dogs? Or even being in close proximity to 10 dogs at once - even on the beach in summer? Probably not.
Here's what happens. A few of the puppies are over-excited, already dominant in nature and just want to get to the other puppies and flatten them to the ground. The "teacher" calls this "play."
So your dog, perhaps one of the more sedate or shy ones, has its first experience of other dogs - and it's being pounced on and flattened and bitten. Sometimes by 3 other dogs. Or maybe the whole lot.
Welcome to fear aggression. For life. What do you think that dog experiences next time it sees a dog in the street, or in the park, or at the beach? That's right. "Dogs attack me."
So then then they RESTRAIN all the dogs to keep "order." The scared ones are now tied up and scared. Great. Goodbye any chance of being well socialised.
Just like children, first experiences can shape you for life. Dogs learn by association. If the first experiences are terrifying - your dog will likely be terrified for life. It can be addressed, but it can be very challenging.
It's the same at a dog class. I've seen groups of 30 dogs all standing next to each other or in a circle. I've seen 180-200 dogs all on the same oval for classes - all coming and going through the same gate at the same time. And WHY would you want to stand in the freezing cold for an hour?
Will they all become fear aggressive? No. But enough will to keep me busy for 20 years. Or worse, we never meet them. These owners spend the rest of their days walking their dog in the middle of night to avoid other dogs. Crossing the street always. They never enjoy the beach or park with their dog. And worse again - their scared dog gets into a fight and is either injured or blamed - which in some areas and for some breeds means destruction orders.
These classes used to keep us with an endless source of work - but it wasn't the kind of work you wanted to be getting. A lot of stress and sadness came with it.
So back to our teenager who stopped going to classes when lockdown hit. Can you guess what happened? That's it - he got calmer, and easier to manage. Why? Because he wasn't having his nerves frazzled by 20 other dogs each week.
SO WHAT IS SOCIALISING? HOW DO I DO IT?
Socialising is getting your dog used to and calm with other dogs. In real life. Chances are if you walk your dog EVERY day, the most dogs you'll meet at once is a couple. So do that.
Ask friends or neighbors who have calm dogs. If you go to the park, size up the dogs there and when you find a well-controlled calm one, ask the owner if they mind hanging out. Stay away from the out of control ones. Or "just over-friendly" as their owner will yell at you.
This way, ALL your dog's early experiences with other dogs are calm and incident free. Three good experiences will set you up better for life than 100 good ones and 10 bad ones. Avoid the bad ones. Avoid large groups.
There's a book in all of this - and it's coming.
Stay tuned for Part 2. In the meantime, if you have any questions, feel free to email on firstname.lastname@example.org - the advice is free!
And follow us on Facebook or Instagram @howzyadog - pretty pictures, not too much thinking.