Déjà vu

Scott Hunt – The Dog Grumbler

RECENTLY, I was advising a client on raising their new pup, particularly with regard to socialising and the pup’s imprint period. I spoke about patience and the fact that dogs must be shown the things we want them to learn.

I found myself referring to the second time a dog encounters something in its environment —it’s a useful way to describe how socialisation and behavioural training work.

I made a note to share it with you in this, my next column. I hope it makes sense — bear with me.

The second time your pup is walked on a leash, it should think to itself: “we did this before and everything worked out fine. We smelled things, stayed off the road and wound up back in a comfortable, familiar environment.”

The second time it meets a cat, it should think: “we did this before and everything worked out fine. The humans were calm, confident, nice to us both and clear about the fact that we were both expected to follow the rules. Then we ended up back in a comfortable, familiar environment.”

The second time your dog travels in car, it should think: “the last time we did this everything worked out fine. We went somewhere interesting, I was encouraged to look out through the window and the smells were great. Then we ended up back home in familiar, comfortable surroundings.”

You can see where I’m going with this — behavioural training isn’t about throwing your dog in at the deep end, it’s about controlling each experience and leaving a positive or at least neutral memory of what took place so you can build on it next time.

Your dog will not learn to cope with cats, cars or walking on lead from a single experience, but it can learn very quickly to fear or distrust all or any of these things from one exposure — especially if that exposure is traumatic. You need to control the experience and patiently build up routines so the dog grows incrementally relaxed and confident in each new environment.

If your dog seems uncomfortable in a new situation, keep it short and simple. Finish on a happy note. Let your dog sleep on the experience.

If your dog reacts adversely to car travel, take a short trip — drive around the block. Reassure your dog throughout and treat it when you get home. Then repeat the trip next time, but drive around the block the other way. Stop if you can and get out briefly to smell things up close. Gradually make the trips longer.

A dog needs to be shown. A pup needs to be shown gently. A pup is learning about the whole world, including many things we aren’t aware of. Be patient. Have faith in your dog’s ability to learn and it’s desire to please you and to fit into your life.

Don’t expect your pup to learn behaviour from a single experience. Focus rather on the memory it will have the next time it experiences the situation. This may seem slow, laborious or boring, but that’s how dog training works and for those who can find the required patience, the payoff is priceless.