Lack of early habituation to people and life in general has a lot to answer for in a great number of the cases I go to.
This is neither sufficiently early habituation and socialisation, nor sufficiently comprehensive habituation.
Early habituation or socialisation?
We tend to say ‘socialisation’ when we mean ‘habituation’. What is the difference? The puppy needs exposure from a few weeks old and lots of early handling. The puppy needs early habituation to all sorts of people and situations – all without scaring her.
Springer Spaniel Luna is a naturally happy and enthusiastic dog, so it’s a great shame her life is blighted by her fear of people she doesn’t know. This is particularly the case if they try to touch her. The fifteen-month-old dog doesn’t like people moving fast either, whether it’s jogging, on a bike or a child on a scooter.
Luna came from a gun dog breeder just like my own working Cocker, Pickle. Until he was three months old, Pickle lived in a pen in a barn with lots of other working-type spaniels and Labradors grouped in pens.
Outings were into a field out the back with the other puppies and dogs. There was no early socialisation or variety. Pickle met very few people nor did he encounter everyday things like vacuum cleaners or traffic.
I’m pretty sure that at the root of Luna’s problems is not having left the gun dog breeder until she was twelve weeks old. There will have been no early habituation or socialisation. She won’t have been taken out anywhere to meet a variety of people nor introduced to the outside world while still young enough to take it in her stride. She’s fine with other dogs however.
Never left all alone
The other thing that overshadows Luna’s happiness is her distress when left alone, even though it’s never for more than three hours.
Until they picked her up, Luna, like my Pickle, will never have been left all by herself. There will always have been the other dogs. This is another fallout from lack of early habituation – to being all alone for short periods.
By twelve weeks of age the window is closing.
They will now work on Luna’s fear of people by associating both those she hears from the garden and those she meets when out with something really special – a treat she loves which won’t be used for anything else.
Protecting her from unwanted attention
They will be more assertive about keeping people from touching her – an I Need Space vest should help. Beautiful young dogs like Luna are like magnets to ‘dog lovers’!
If the person is running or on a bike, they will use a ball – which they will now save specifically for this. She is ball-obsessed. They now will put balls away and only bring one out when there is a moving person triggering fear. The moving person can now trigger the ball instead, redirecting to movement in the opposite direction – and fun.
Luna is unusual in that she is less scared when on lead than when running free. She may rush up to people and bark at them, which can be alarming. For this reason it’s essential, if she’s to be off lead and free, that they have spot-on recall. Meanwhile they should keep her on a long line.
Luna’s separation problems aren’t extreme and sometimes she may even finish her stuffed Kong. If she were frantic she wouldn’t want to eat. However, she often cries and howls. They will film her.
There are a few ideas they could try. If my guess is right about the company of other dogs being sufficient for her, Dog TV may fill the void. Luna is fascinated by dogs on TV.
Leaving her somewhere ‘safe’.
They shut Luna in the hallway where her bed is when they go out. I feel the hallway is a place she may feel vulnerable. She will hear people going past and have to cope with mail coming through the door. Getting her used to being shut in the back room would be better – initially just leaving the door open so she makes her own choice. If I were her I would choose the sofa!
Once Luna had warmed up to me it was hard to imagine her scared of things. She was cheeky and playful. Unfortunately, probably due to insufficiently early habituation, she is easily spooked. She is upset by quite a list of everyday things. They will deal with each thing that upsets her using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.
The net result will be a more confident dog. They will be compensating for her lack of early habituation and socialisation. Luna will be more able to deal with the things that currently scare her.