Many of you would have heard the term socialisation used many times in the behavioral development of puppies. Habituation is another word used in conjunction with socialisation. This is the process of exposure to and familiarisation with inanimate objects and situations., rather than living things. Socialisation has been accepted as encompassing both processes.

Socialisation is the process by which a puppy builds up experiences which prepare him for adult life and decreases his sensitivity to novelties in his surroundings. the larger the variation of experiences and stimuli the puppy encounters, the more likely he will be to adapt rapidly to new situations, new people or new objects. Conversely, puppies who have a limited range of experiences will continue to approach objects and experiences with caution. With time, that caution turns to fear and eventually the under-socialised puppy of today becomes the fearful, withdrawn and even aggressive adult of tomorrow. Socialisation is a vital process and a major component in preventing behavioral problems.

Never too young to startSocialisation should start as soon as possible and breeders have a responsibility to set the wheels in motion. Scientific research indicates that from the age of three or four weeks, puppies will learn from their experiences and that they are most receptive to the socialisation process up until they are between 12 and 14 weeks of age, depending on the individual and the breed. This does not mean that socialisation stops once the puppy gets to 14 weeks of age. The process should be continued right up until maturity and even throughout life. However, the later the process starts, the more difficult it becomes, because the puppy becomes more cautious as the months go by and he will find it harder and harder to adapt to new situations. research also suggests socialisation can wear off in animals under six months of age if circumstances change and they are no longer given the wide range of experiences that they enjoyed earlier on in life. This can be particularly relevant when animals less than six months old are kenneled for long periods, for example, for quarantine, and it highlights the importance of continuing the socialisation process even after the so-called 'socialisaion period' is over.

The vaccination debate
Preventing disease as well as behavioural problems in puppies is important and a balance has to be made between the two. Vaccination is vital for all youngsters and until the vaccination course is completed, there is a risk of contracting diseases from other dogs.Any socialisation that goes on at this time needs to allow for the relative risks involved. carrying the puppy about in your arms is one way to minimise the dangers. More and more early vaccination programmes are becoming available and this enables puppies to benefit from a full socialisation programme at an earlier age.

Meet people, go places, do things.
Puppies need to gain as much experience of people as possible and it helps to introduce them to both men and women and to children of varying ages. People come in all shapes and sizes. Some wear glasses, some hats. Some carry boxes or bags and some wear different types of clothing. Some use walking aids and some are in wheelchairs, so successful socialisation should include all types of people and situations. Your pup must get to meet other dogs and other pets he may be expected to share his domain with. Take your puppy to different places so he can experience different environments. Include in the programme visits to not so common places. Since most dogs travel in the car nowdays, get him used to car travel at an early age. It makes sense to include as many experiences as possible into the socialisation programme. One way of enabling your puppy to mix with a variety of people and other dogs is to attend a well organised puppy training and socialisation class. As well as socialising, they are introduced to basic obedience using reward-based techniques of one kind or another. Youngsters learn to respond to their owners commands in the face of considerable distractions and this is probably one of the most important aspects of these classes. Communication is the key word here. Puppies learn how to read and interpret canine signals as well as how to interact successfully with humans. In return, owners learn how to communicate with their dogs and also develop a better understanding of how dogs behave.

Dog to dog.
If puppies are turned loose to interact with each other in any way they choose, there is a real danger that problems will be created rather than prevented. An over-confident puppy can quickly learn that he can control the play and as he begins to bully the quieter individuals, a canine thug is created. Uncontrolled play sessions can teach puppies that dogs are far more fun than humans, with the result that the dog begins to ignore its owner. This is the first step to losing control. Instead of creating a better dog, you have created a potential problem.

To adapt the socialisation programme to suit your individual's needs, learn to read your pup's body language, and to anticipate his reactions. If he attempts to pull away in a particular situation, or stands absolutely still, as if frozen to the spot, then don't proceed with the introduction. Any apprehension or your part will be picked up by your puppy. It is natural to want to comfort and reassure a youngster if he is upset, but avoid the situation where he sees reassurence from you as confirmation that there is something to be afraid of. Try to distract him with positive signals such as food or play and be as upbeat and happy as possible to reinforce the idea that the new experience is fun. Re-expose your puppy as soon as possible to any unpleasant event, but arrange for it to be diluted, e.g., by being further away, and for it to coincide with an extremely pleasant experience. Repeat this several times. Failure to learn how to cope with novelty and challenge can lead to behavioural problems or seriously affect the dog's quality of life.

Submitted by John Chandler
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