Know your Pooch
The writer is former director, GSI, and an avid animal lover. His understanding of man's best friend comes from over six decades of dedicated association with it…
If you ask me, my answer would be a big NO. It is never too late to socialise a dog. Of course, the process may take longer and may be a test of your patience! But the result is encouraging and gives you a confidence, ‘yes I can do it’. The first question that must be coming to your mind is that ‘why is he emphasising so much about socialising a dog?’ It is quite natural to get such thoughts when you read consecutively two articles on the same subject! Well socialising a dog is one of the most essential thing about which, most dog owners either ignorant or are not able to do that!
I will explain with a personal experience. I always acquired a new dog as an eight week old puppy. It is very easy to socialise a puppy from that age and by 16 weeks he is fully socialised and accustomed to all kinds of noise, odours and the environment in which he lives and moves. By that age he is also taught to accept other dogs and pets as normal creatures and behave with them properly. However, once I too faltered. I was offered a two years old Lhasa Terrier bitch by a gentleman in Dehradun, where I had gone for work. She was such a beauty that I could not say no and accepted the offer. His only condition was that I will return it when he comes back to India after two years. I was literally blinded by her beauty and accepted that condition too.
Till then I had seen her from a distance only. He asked his servant to bring her to the sitting room. Since she was straining at the leash, I told him to unleash her. And lo, I had it. She came jumping, play barking and almost dancing towards me. I took her for a normal playful dog. She climbed on to the sofa and in the next moment my shoulder was in her mouth. I took it as play biting, but when I began to feel her teeth piercing through my thick sweater and leather jacket, I realised something was wrong. My left shoulder was between her teeth and with my free right hand I pressed her jaw from both the sides. She had to leave my shoulder and in the meanwhile the owner had leashed her. He rebuked and hit her instantly.
He profusely apologised, but I knew that I have made a wrong decision. I brought her home and drove back to Lucknow. She was okay with my children, but the sight of my Labradors made her go almost mad with rage. Likewise, during the night when I left her alone in a verandah, she chewed off whatever she could catch between her jaws. It was a big challenge to correct her and make her a pet who could live with others.
I had a large enclosure where I could leave her alone with plenty of toys and no one to disturb her. I kept her there and began to train her from scratch. She was not used to be disciplined at all. It took me about 15 days to teach her the commands of ‘Come’, ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay.’ And another 15 days to teach her to ‘Heel’ (walk with the master without pulling or lagging behind). During the course of this training, I also realised that if a dog is wagging his tail, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she is in a playful mood. One has to look at some tell-tale body signs. For example, the expression of the eyes, smoothness of the forehead and growl if any. A wagging tale could be deceptive if the dog is cross-eyed, with a deep frown on the forehead and a growling almost inaudibly. In case of Sheeba, the forehead was completely covered and even the eyes were not easily visible. Hence, while exposing her to one of my best behaved Labrador retriever I had to keep an eye on her jaw and teeth. The moment she showed an expression of anger, she got a jerk on her choke chain with a ‘No’ from me in a gruff tone. And as soon as she showed a normal reaction, she was rewarded and praised her. Gradually, the two started getting along well. It took another six months to make her accept all the dogs, except my miniature pincher (Minpin). The Minpin was a spoilt baby and there was no point causing stress to either of them.
Dogs, I find are somewhat like people. Some are ebullient, socialise a lot, stay comfortable in presence of strangers or guests and almost ignore other animals. Some are reticent and avoid meeting people, chary of other dogs and pets and scared of any sound.
Socialisation training is a must for both the types. But the owner has to understand the limitations. An outgoing dog will learn faster than the introvert. It’s always better to first impart the basic training. That itself is a difficult task in case of an adult dog, but not impossible. While learning the basic commands the dog develops a kind of rapport with the master, initially in the confines of a room, undisturbed by other activities of the house. Gradually he is taken out and finally he is able to obey the commands in any situation. Once you reach that stage, more than half the job is done.
At this stage in order to ‘introduce’ an introvert, shy dog to other dogs, thumb rule is to make them meet on a neutral territory. The number of times the trainee dog behaves properly, he should be rewarded lavishly. However, there are exceptions to this. If your dog is showing signs of fear or aggression, taking him closer to another dog may not be very prudent. You may very slowly try to make him adjust, but beyond a point that should not be tried. Once a scared dog attacks the other dog, then it becomes almost impossible to teach him to remain cool. For such dogs you need the help of a professional, dog behaviourist.
A large majority of dog parents don’t understand the significance of socialisation and continue to spoil their pet by taking his side. For example, un-socialised, shy dog is bound to nip the ankle of a guest leaving the house. The best alternative for such dogs is to shield the dog by saying, ‘No this is habit. Actually, he wishes to say, please don’t go so soon,’ or similar lame excuses. But the fact is that the ignorant parent is not aware of the damage he/she is doing to the dog and also to the human society.