Early Socialisation Colours Dog’s Life

CockerMollyA couple of weeks ago I went to Nico, another Cocker Spaniel with fairly similar fear issues towards people, lack of early socialisation in the early weeks certainly being a large part of the cause of his wariness of all sorts of things. Nico’s problem was far greater because he had little interaction with the outside world until my clients took him on at the age of two years old.

Sixteen-month-old Molly who I went to yesterday is a lot more fortunate however. They picked her up from the breeder at nine weeks old and with hard work have brought her round from being a scared puppy that growled even when family approached her to a great family dog, fine with nearly everything now apart from close contact with people she doesn’t know. Even then she doesn’t bark or growl. She hangs back and is very tentative, but I got the feeling she was really wanting to make friends – if she dared.

Molly actually came from a very well-regarded breeder of many years experience but who probably hasn’t kept up-to-date with modern behavioural science. Today it is acknowledged that early socialisation with puppies must begin way before they leave the breeder and their litter-mates. Being kept in kennels outside, however luxurious and warm, isn’t the same as being part of a family with lots of comings and goings and real-life experiences and doesn’t make them fit for modern living. I would recommend anyone buying a puppy takes a look at the Puppy Plan website and then check the breeder.

Molly is wonderful with the two young boys and they are great with her; she treats the six-year-old like another puppy. Interestingly, I found that when the children were in the room Molly’s confidence towards myself greatly increased.

Like most Cockers, Molly can become very excited. There have been a couple of incidents with very young children when backs have been turned which have resulted in cuts. No one can be sure whether they were accidental. On one occasion the child was hugging or squeezing her and on the other occasion a toy was involved. It’s easy to be over-confident because of how wonderful she is with her own family’s kids.  All dogs need ‘protecting’ from inappropriate approaches by little children especially, and particularly dogs that are already nervous or over-excited. Backs should never be turned when young children and dogs are together, however confident we are in our dog. It only takes one moment after a build up of other things for the most tolerant of dogs to have had enough. The child will ignore the warning signs and the dog will get the blame.

I suggested a gate in the kitchen doorway so she had a safe haven and a place she can be put when things get a bit too noisy and exciting – as they are bound to with young children about. Molly will be happy with this I’m sure. She is a self-contained dog who likes her own company and will usually take herself off when the boys have gone to bed.

As is the case with many insecure dogs Molly is also quite protective, both at home and protective of the lady when they are out (not the man though). Because she is so different with the various people in her life, it demonstrates so well how a dog reflects her humans’ behaviour and state of mind. The man doesn’t anticipate trouble so when out Molly is carefree with him. The lady is a bit more tense and anxious, so Molly will doubtless sense this. She loves most other dogs, but if one runs over to the lady she will do her best to keep it away, zigzagging in front of her and circling.

The frantic barking and running from the front of the house to the back when she hears anything outside needs to be dealt with in such a way that she has confidence in her humans to take care of the situation and to look after her – the lady in particular. What happens at home spills out onto walks.

Starting with how she deals with ‘protection duty’ at home, the lady in particular can show Molly that she doesn’t need protecting and it’s the other way around – that she is there to protect Molly.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Molly, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

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