Why is socialisation important?

Have you ever met a dog who is afraid of tall bearded men who wear hats?

Well, that dog must have been abused by a tall bearded man who was wearing a hat, right?

Wrong.

There is a 99% chance that this dog simply wasn’t properly socialised with tall men, bearded men, men wearing hats.

It’s a lack of socialisation that causes most behaviour issues rather than abuse. In fact, I can count on two hands the number of abuse cases I have seen in more than a decade, whereas I work with upwards of 30 dogs a week who have missed out on the critical socialisation window and are experiencing fear, anxiety and stress, resulting in reactivity and/or aggression.

All animals are equipped with the infamous “fight or flight” reflex and all animals are inclined toward neophobia – a fear of novelty. This means your puppy is naturally going to tend to be afraid of anything new, but you won’t often see it in the early days. You might even say your puppy “doesn’t care” or is “fearless”; you ran the VitaMix and she didn’t blink. You vacuumed the floor and he didn’t bat an eye. You dropped a cookbook on the floor and she came running over to investigate it. These are all great signs, however, they are temporary at best.

Miss out on the art of socialisation and this fearlessness disappears and is easily replaced with fear responses and aggression once that puppy turns into an adolescent.

We can’t leave anything to chance, and we have a small window in which to do this. From 5 to 14 weeks of age, a puppy’s brain is developing so quickly that this is what we call the “Critical socialisation period”. Trying to socialise a dog beyond this point is no longer called “socialisation” – it’s called “training tolerance” or “behaviour modification”. Don’t miss the window. It’s a lot of work later if you do.