Thirty years ago I remember being told that if you wanted a good guard dog, you don’t let anyone near it, you start with a territorial dog, don’t socialize it and it will be a fierce guard dog.
If you looked at that dog as an adult, it would be a mix of fear, territorial aggression, rank aggression and uncertainty. It probably has learned that being aggressive and biting gets rid of people, maintains territorial control and relieves pressure.
On the other end of the scale, the responsible dog owners and breeders of that time were pushing “socialisation” to ensure your dog was friendly.
So when people got a puppy they were told to socialise it. When they asked the breeder what that was, the common answer was to take the dog out and expose it to everything.
Make it love everyone and everything including other dogs.
Lets understand that this era was predominantly governed by training styles that reflected Bill Koehlers methods. Many check chains / compulsion / pressure methods were floating around then so whilst people may have been openly socialising their dogs, the training of that time was designed around correcting drive out of the dog.
Come forward 30 years and the common message of “socialise” is still going strong, but training methods have certainly changed. Many people no longer suppress drive in their dogs and many more select dogs for higher levels of drive.
So now we have dogs with more power, speed and determination but no suppression methods in sight.
Right or wrong?
Well I believe training in drive is the best training method world wide, and this means preserving all the drive you can and using no suppression at all. So training I believe has definitely evolved the right way, but what about “socialisation”?
Is exposing your dog to everything and every dog still the way?
For a long time I have believed that it isn’t, but that doesn’t mean I think the dogs should be left unsocialised either.
First let me explain what I think socialisation is: –
In my view socialisation is: exposing your dog to something new and assigning a value to it.
Value? What does that mean ?
So look at this scale below, it shows the value system I use to rate values of experiences.
When a dog has been exposed to other dogs and has been allowed to gain a high emotional value for them, they become a huge distraction that can be hard to compete with or even maintain control around.
Another consideration is that when you are taking your puppy to places to actively socialise it you may strike an aggressive dog that will attack your pup. Other than the risk of physical damage the psychological damage that can occur can be impossible to totally rectify.
When your puppy matures it will likely be fear aggressive toward other dogs due to having a high negative emotional value for dogs.
So again, what is the answer?
For many years I have been advising people to neutralise their pups.
In actual fact neutralisation IS socialisation, just not aiming at the high positive emotional values many people do. I call it neutralisation to pull people up and get them to pay attention to the differences in my programs.
I advise “controlled exposure”, aiming at a low “rational” value of others dogs, adults and children.
This controlled exposure also applies to the owner. The dog learns the highest value for the owner via games and bonding that encapsulate the dog’s genetic attributes whilst including some training that includes the dog being somewhat independent and not anxious when the owner leaves for work.
I have designed this program after doing hundreds if not thousands of Behaviour Consults in which the problems have been created when unlimited exposure has been allowed.
Having a dog that has a low rational value for other dogs, people and children, makes maintaining obedience around these distractions much easier. There never is a desire for your child loving dog to belt up to a child and inadvertently knock the child down or frighten them.
If you are not aware, an action such as this can see your dog be Declared Dangerous (read my article on this topic here), no matter how well intended your dog may have been. Rushing a person or animal is enough to put you on the wrong side of council and your dog can end up on the wrong side of a life sentence of heavy restrictions.
There are certainly dogs that have received unlimited exposure to other dogs and have played with them and will still come when called, but I can tell you that is far from the majority, or even common.
Trainers universally tell owners they need to be more fun, more appealing to their dogs to get their dogs attention, but is this just due to the high competitive value of other people and or dogs?
If so it doesn’t have to be this way. I want my dog to feel that in my presence he can earn the highest rewards possible and the only effect other people can have is to get in the way.
The dog does not want for anything because I take on the responsibility of provider when I get a dog or puppy. When people see dogs that have been through this program, they are not really that different in their behaviours, the differences are small but significant.
A friend once told me that “The difference is in the details” and this was something he got from Le Corbusier, a famous French Architect.
I am not trying to convince anyone that my way is better, but I suggest you look at the value system above, have a good think about this article and what it has to offer you.
Breeders feel free to point people toward this article, it produces a well balanced, easier to train dog that will be exposed to less risk.
Vets and vet nurses that run puppy classes perhaps should rethink what they are doing and the advice they give.
We have to look at what the end results are and the problems that are arising from over-socialisation of pups.