How puppys become social

When puppies are first born the only thing motivating them is self preservation. Instinctive urges cause them to crawl towards warmth. Fixed motor patterns cause them to paw at teats when hunger motivates them to feed.

At this stage the pups are not social animals. Far from it. Evoultion has given them a genetic predisposition to become social but there is a process the pup must go through in order to fulfill this potential.

This process is called socialisation. The clue is in the name! It is only through the process of interacting with it’s siblings and parent/s that the pups will grow to be fully functioning, social adults.

P1000895The pups very quickly start to initiate aggressive interactions, sometimes over resources but at times it appears to be for no reason at all. It may be over proximity to something too abstract for us to observe but these fights can be very rough. They are rough because what we are seeing is real aggression and real fear and real pain. It is through this process that the pups learn about bite inhibition, their ability to inflict and receive pain and more importantly their ability to placate the aggressor through their posture and vocal communication. They also learn to cease hostilities on seeing these appeasing and submissive gestures.

Through this process the pups are learning the art of being social. The ability to get and maintain resources by posturing and communication alone and the ability to acknowledge others dominant behaviour and show submissive behaviour in response, safe in the knowledge this will work.IMG_2999

Through repeated encounters the pups will start to recognize when they are likely to win an encounter with a sibling or not and will not invest energy wasting their time. We then tend to describe those individuals as ‘dominant’ or ‘submissive’ but we must remember that dominance and submission are behaviour traits not character traits and are subject to change depending on social circumstance.

The aim of dominance/submission is to prevent aggression and provide a stable environment for the dogs to live. In the dogs ancestor the wolf, family life is largely harmonious. Most encounters can be dealt with through communication and conflict is avoided through dominant/submissive posturing. Even when fighting does break out it is very ritualised and rarely causes injury.

So far the pup has only encountered members of its own family. If we want our pup to be social with strange dogs when out on walks etc then the process of socialisation needs to continue to include new, straP1010018nge dogs. These dogs should include the many types of dog around from the very big to the very small. It is worth making the effort to meet dogs that look very different from the pup as well. Dogs with longer coats or shorter coats, ears pricked or floppy, pointed faces and flat faces.

There is even scope for adding in different species too. Dogs, humans, cats, goats. There is no limit but it has to happen within the socialisation period. This is generally the first 12 weeks of life although constant encounters are required to ensure the highest levels of socialisation.

Although aggression plays a part in the very early stages of socialisation it does not follow that it plays any real part in forming or maintaining adult relationships. Much of the unwavering dominant behaviour the pups have seen comes from the parents who must naturally adopt a leadership role. This leadership role is a given from parents to offspring as the young are so dependant upon them and learning the rules of life from them. Us humans can maintain our ‘dominant’ position merely by adopting the leadership role. By teaching our dogs the rules and enforcing them consistently we can avoid conflict. There is no requirement to be aggressive or to use physical reprimands.

If we remember that dominance is a mechanism for overcoming aggression then if we see actual aggression it should tell us not that the dog is being dominant (and trying to take over the universe) but that something is going wrong. That is the subject for another post though. If you have a puppy or are getting one soon just remember that to be social the dog will need to be socialised. This is your responsibility and although you may suffer the consequences of a poorly socialised dog in the short term, it is the dog that will pay in the long run, often with his life. black puppy

 

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2 Responses to “How puppys become social”

  1. Tina Wilson-Ferris Says:

    I am applying for an instructors job in our force and have been reading a lot of your articles. I am to do a presentation for 15mins on “the importance of balance in police dogs” do you have any tips or advice on this for me?

    Thank you for your time

    • Balance? In what context? Some talk of balance between prey and defence drive, arousability and inhibition or between rewards and punishment. I would seek clarification on the question.

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