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The right way to socialise your dog

Dog socialisation is one of the most misunderstood concepts in pet parenting. Here are some common misconceptions about it and the right way to socialise your dog

Many pet parents think taking a dog to the dog park is a good way to socialise, but that is not true at all.
Many pet parents think taking a dog to the dog park is a good way to socialise, but that is not true at all. (HT_PRINT)

Many Instagram and YouTube videos often discuss dog socialisation. It’s also a highly discussed subject amongst pet parents, trainers and behaviourists. It is an important part of dog training, especially for city dogs. However, there are many misconceptions about socialising a dog, which can often negatively impact a dog’s behaviour rather than help him.

My husband and I faced some problems with socialising our dog Khal Dogo as well, but fortunately, just for a short while. A quick course correction helped us in getting him back on track. It’s important for every pet parent to understand what socialising a dog really entails. What are its benefits, and how to do it right and steer clear of misconceptions?

Biggest misconception

Like the name suggests, people believe socialising a dog is to introduce it to as many dogs and humans as possible. “Not true. Socialising a dog means exposing him to different sounds, smells sights and different surfaces, and teaching him or her to co-exist with other humans and dogs, though not necessarily love everyone,” says Aakash Shukla, a dog trainer and behaviourist based in Mumbai. He travels around the country for dog consultation “Exposing a dog to different things at a young age will help your dog get used to different environments and stay calm and well-behaved, whether in a mall or a restaurant or at home,” adds Delano Henriques, also a dog trainer and behaviourist from Mumbai who also trains Indian and international dog trainers in India and abroad.

Also read: 11 reasons why you must train your dog, regardless of size or breed

Socialising a dog should also not be mistaken as an exercise to get your dog to love every human and dog and not be scared of anything at all. That is an unreal expectation. Not all dogs love meeting new people or being touched by strangers. “Please don’t go around asking every person and child on the road to pet your dog,” says Shukla. By doing so, you could be making your dog more nervous and anxious, and less trusting towards you. “In fact, if your dog doesn’t like to be petted or is anxious around strangers, stand up for him. Ask humans to not bother him. He will trust you when he knows that you can handle any situation and keep him safe,” adds Shukla.

Dog park is not the answer

Most pet parents think that taking a dog to a dog park is the best way to socialise a dog. But both Henriques and Shukla are against it. “Having dogs run around unsupervised is not a good idea at all,” says Henriques. Some dogs are more reactive than others, some have high energy, and some don’t. This leads to fights and dog aggression. “We often see dogs learn bad behaviour at a park,” adds Shukla. Even if your dog is non-reactive or more docile than other dogs, he might try to dominate another dog of lower energy, having learnt that behaviour from his bullies.

The same happened with our dog Khal. When he was a puppy and bursting with energy, we took him to the dog park every evening to have him play with other dogs. But at the park, he was often bullied by a German Shepherd duo, a behaviour he imitated as soon as he got bigger and stronger. After two incidents of him getting into fights with other dogs, we stopped taking him to the park and had to work hard on getting him out of the habit of challenging other dogs. The other two dogs, however, are not to be solely blamed for Khal’s behaviour. There is a lot at play when two dogs fight, though that’s a topic for another article.

Socialise your dog, just the right amount

Getting back to socialising, too much or too little socialisation also causes problems. A classic example of too much socialisation would be dog parents who want to introduce their dogs to different sounds, smells and sights all at once. “Pet parents must understand that exposing a dog to different things puts the pup under pressure,” says Shukla. “While it’s imperative that he gets used to certain pressures, but don’t do it all at once and make your dog a nervous baby,” adds Shukla. So, don’t take him to a mall, a restaurant, to the airport all at once. Introduce him to newer things gradually while you build a strong bond with him. It’s important for your dog to trust you to be comfortable around you wherever you are, and that takes time.

Also read: Debunking 9 common misconceptions about dogs and aggression

Too little socialisation is when parents just do not take their dogs out of their homes. Many small dogs are not socialised at all. “They are easily scared of different sounds, even surfaces and become anxious, nervous dogs,” says Shukla. The worst thing humans of small dogs do is to treat them like toys. Whether a dog is barking too much or shivering because he is scared, small dogs’ humans simply pick them up. “By doing so, parents are actually demonstrating to the dogs that they can’t handle the situation, teaching the dogs not to trust them,” says Shukla. This makes a dog more nervous and scared.

I know of dogs, not just pups but also adults, that are scared of stairs because they have never been introduced to them. If you and your dog are living in a city and are exposed to all kinds of sounds and sights every day, including crackers and loud dhols, you have to take your dog outside the house at least twice a day.

The right way to socialise your dog

Start slow, but as soon as the dog comes into your life. If your pup is too small and can’t be taken outside the building until he is fully vaccinated, take him for a walk in the lobby, and get him to climb two to three steps at a time. Play music on your phone; get him used to the television and sounds of a doorbell, mixer grinder, hair dryer and other appliances you would use at home, including his nail trimmer. Train him with treats, encourage his every little success with a gentle pet and/or by saying ‘good boy’ and ‘good girl’ in a mildly excited tone.

Ensure that the dog is comfortable with your house staff, building’s security guards, cleaning staff and delivery men. Introduce him to calm and confident dogs with a good temperament who can reassure him that it’s okay to be taking the elevator or walking on concrete roads.

Riddhi Doshi is an independent journalist, a first-time pet parent and a Kathak student.

Also read: 8 things to know before you give in to cuteness and get a dog

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