Insufficient early socialisationI met Vera yesterday, a four-and-a half month old Bloodhound puppy. She is the size of an adult Beagle!

Vera is already scared and reactive to other dogs both passing the house and those she meets when out on walks.

She is frightened, too, of children.

Otherwise she is a confident dog, friendly with people. She is giving Jack Russell, 9, a run for her money – something we are all now working on.

Lack of socialisation.

Socialisation – what is it? Many people think it’s simply waiting for their puppy to finish his or her injections. Then they take him to a park, to training classes or to somewhere with lots of dogs.

Socialisation is about a lot more. It’s about early introduction to the outside world – people, dogs, vehicles, noises, wheelie bins…….

The couple didn’t pick Vera up from the breeder until she was about twelve weeks old. I would guess that, being so happy with people, she will have met plenty. It’s very unlikely though that she had encountered children – or many other dogs outside their own house.

All puppies are different of course, with different natures, and very possibly others in her litter are different towards other dogs and children.

It has been scientifically proven that the best time to introduce puppies to the world and particularly to people of all ages and a variety of other dogs is from a very early age. Some even say a few days old for being handled by people!

Read this by Linda Michaels, ‘Puppy Socialization and Vaccinations Belong Together’.

Puppy socialization check list. This may be a bit more than most people can manage and much of it is up to the breeder, but it shows the ideal situation.

By the time they fetched Vera at twelve weeks old, a big door of opportunity for socialisation was already closing.

They are now playing catch-up.

This doesn’t mean Vera can’t become very happy with other dogs and children as she grows up. It will simply need much more working on.

They will make use of people passing the garden with dogs and people stopping to chat over the garden gate to build up positive associations for Vera. She has her regular accompanied toilet visits, and they will take food out with them – something like grated cheese, chicken or tiny bits of Ziwipeak which is what I use.

Immediately Vera is aware of a dog, even if she has started to bark, good things must happen. Food can rain from the sky! Very food-driven, she will then have to turn attention away from the dog to hunt for the food with her Bloodhound nose.

(They need not worry that feeding is rewarding barking because they are dealing with the emotion of fear, not with the act of barking which is only happening as a result of the fear)..

One of the couple can be at the garden gate talking to a man who regularly passes with his dog and the other can work on finding the distance at which Vera is comfortable.

Fun and food!

Then they can make good things happen for her – fun and food. She loves a game of tug.

She may even get near enough for the man to throw over some food for her (not leaving out his own calm and elderly dog!).

They can go to the local primary school at playtime or a playground. They can use the same process as she watches the children running about – from a comfortable distance.

Currently when meeting a dog on a walk, she barks and pulls as they hold her tightly. Her deep Bloodhound bark can sound really fierce even though she is so young.

In order to socialise her properly now, they will do what seems to be the opposite of ‘socialising’. They will increase their distance.

Walks should be ‘wanders and sniffs’ for a puppy of this age. They will give her reassurance, positive reinforcement and distance when encountering dogs.

The walk is about information not about exercise for a puppy. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Vera and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned – particularly anything involving children. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)