Many people believe that the correct age to start training their dog is at 6 months. However, the best age for socialisation is before your pup is 16 weeks old.
You must remember that there is a big difference between socialisation and training. Training is where we teach dogs basic manners such as sitting, heeling, walking on a loose leash and coming when we call them. Socialisation is where we teach puppies how to interact appropriately with other living creatures, including people of all ages and races and other pets. We also habituate them to different situations and environments such as car trips to the vet/groomer and to novel things such as the sound of loud music, thunder and household objects like vacuum cleaners.
The reason why this should be done as soon as possible is because at about 4 months of age (16 weeks) puppies have the closing of their optimum social learning window period, where they start to become suspicious of novel things and people.
The result is that if a dog wasn’t socialised to children before the dog was 16 weeks old, it is possible that he might be reactive or scared of kids when he encounters them later on in life.
Bear in mind though that pups usually need to be exposed to at least six different situations before they can start to generalise. This means that even if you have other dogs and your pup gets to play with them, it doesn’t mean he’s now social to all other dogs. It just means he’s fine with your dogs, and you still need to teach him how to behave with unfamiliar dogs of different shapes and sizes. This is really important as it will make your life easier down the line when you want to take your dog to the park or the beach for a walk.
If you have a nervous or reactive dog, you can’t walk them when other dogs are around since it will be unpleasant for you and your dog, and that’s why most people with reactive dogs then tend to avoid being in contact with unfamiliar dogs.
This principle applies to children and staff, too. Do you have kids now? Are you planning on having kids in the next 10 – 15 years that your pet dog will be with you? If you are, it’s vital to teach your pup that children are safe, friendly and fun.
In a good puppy class, you’ll be given advice on a number of important issues, such as housetraining, bite inhibition, tactile desensitization, handling, nutrition, grooming and parasite control.
Puppies should be allowed to play, but the play must be appropriate and nobody should be frightened or bullied. Do your homework and ask to go visit a class first without your pup. Speak to the clients in the class and ask them if they are enjoying it and learning from the instructor.
If the equipment used includes a choke chain or any kind of physical aversive training tools such as a spray bottle or rolled up newspaper, walk away quickly! Those methods are out-dated and can do more harm than good.
There are so many really excellent courses that trainers can do to qualify as a puppy or adult dog training instructor, so do not hesitate to ask to see qualifications.
Remember that dog training techniques have evolved significantly in the last ten years and there are kinder and more effective ways of getting your dog to listen to you than using unpleasant methods. Ultimately, puppy class is about teaching your puppy how to be a wonderful companion and to teach owners how to be great pet guardians.
Who is Karin Pienaar?
Animal behaviour guru, Karin Pienaar, has been working in the field of animal behaviour and behaviour therapy in South Africa since 1997. She completed her Diploma in Animal Behaviour in the UK, through the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE) and is a qualified Practitioner member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists & Trainers (CAPBT) in the UK and South Africa.
For more info visit: http://coapesa.com/