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Socialisation... Success?

Dog parks, doggy meetups, puppy play hours – dog owners worldwide flock to these places in the name of socialisation.

Socialisation. It’s drummed into us that our dogs must be socialised and should be socialised with everything from an early age. However, little thought seems to be given to the best way to socialise our dogs.

Locally, people flock to the “puppy park” in Brighton, part of a park that has been fenced in and dedicated to dogs – sounds great, right?

I’ve been to the regular Saturday morning meet-up – without my dogs, thankfully – and I lasted under 5 minutes before I walked away. It was packed with young puppies and their owners, keen and eager for their pups to meet as many dogs as possible, as well as owners of older dogs who “just love other dogs, he’s so friendly!”. I'm sure you can see where I'm going here, it unsurprisingly was chaos. Pure, unbridled chaos. There were dogs everywhere – large groups playing chase games, over the top rough and tumble games, and barking, shouting, ball throwing galore and everywhere I looked puppies having their minds totally and utterly blown.

Your dog's body language can tell you a lot

There were dozens of puppies panicking, scared, hiding or totally shut down – and there were plenty of adult dogs not coping too. Several owners of shutdown, scared puppies were physically dragging or pushing their puppies into greeting dogs they were actively trying to avoid, entirely and totally oblivious to the awful time their puppy was having, all the while laughing, joking and proudly coming out with phrases like “she always does this, but she has to learn dogs aren’t scary”.

"Dog parks" are full of Hyper-aroused, over-stimulated animals, know the signs!

All of these dogs were not being socialised. They were being overwhelmed (or flooded) and having a terrifying time. Which could well lead to problems that could take months, if not years to overcome – like that boogyman "reactivity".

On the flip side of this, there were the puppies and dogs who were learning nothing but to get over-aroused and rough with every dog they meet, and that this is socially acceptable behaviour. These are the same dogs and puppies that often have a meltdown when they see another dog and cannot greet them – dragging their owners across the park, over roads or down the street to get to another dog, usually shouting, screaming and spinning while they do it. It’s not just big dogs either, I’ve seen plenty of little dogs who behave just like this too. And guess what – I end up seeing these dogs a behaviour case later in life because they cannot cope with the frustration of not being able to greet a dog immediately that they become reactive when they finally greet, they are unable to do so calmly, get snappy/reactive or get told off by the other dog.

“she always does this, but she has to learn dogs aren’t scary”

She's stressed, and you don't see it.

None of these dogs are learning appropriate social skills or to pay attention to their owners (for something like recall) or even how to stay calm when seeing other dogs. And those are exactly the reasons I advise all my puppy owners to avoid places like this like the plague.

Instead, I get them to focus on walking with calm, polite, adult dogs with their pups, sitting in a park and watching life (and rewarding for calm behaviour) and keeping all greetings short and sweet with dogs they don’t know. It’s important to remember that we need to teach our pups to respond appropriately to as many environments/situations as possible – and in very few of them is tearing around, playing rough and tumble games the appropriate response!

So what is the right way to do it? Now that's a harder question. It's slower, more focused, and starts with short, simple, quiet meetings where stimulus can be kept under control. Start with a focus on calm behaviour, and utilise the check-in training we so heavily encourage at Great and Small. To really kick start that socialisation, successfully, you are always welcome at our Socialisation group classes - where we practise all this and so much more in a fun, calm, stress-free environment. Whatever route you take, the Oaf and I look forward to meeting you out there - calmly. Oh, and for the love of your dog, avoid dog parks!

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