Most dog owners are aware of term "socialisation" and understand it to mean exposing their young dog to a variety of experiences so that it can become accustomed to its surroundings and not become
fearful or timid.
Unfortunately, too many dogs have either too much or too little socialisation and a great deal of harm is caused by the owners' lack of understanding of how young animals learn about their
When something rewarding, threatening or boring happens to the dog, it stores the sensory messages it detects at the time in its long-term memory. I call this an Environmental
Photo. When the dog comes across the same environmental photo again in the future it triggers the same response in the dog as it did before.
Here are some examples -
Some of the most powerful "photos" a dog will keep in its long-term memory are those that it made while with its mother and littermates.
- I know of a dog that was bred on a farm and spent the first six weeks of its life with its mother and littlermates in a stable with straw on the floor. For the rest of its life whenever it came
across a bale of straw it became excited, playful and began tugging the straw from the bales and tossing it in the air. This dog had kept an environmental photo of either the sight, scent, taste or
feel of the straw from those early experiences of playing with what was in its environment to keep it amused. Whenever its senses matched this "photo" it triggered the dog into doing the playful
puppy behaviour of its youth.
- If a puppy has little or no experience with humans or their environment in the first six or seven weeks of life, it will assess its new human home as being unpleasant and stressful (or at the
other extreme, too exciting and rewarding as it explores with all of its senses) that it is unable to relax and get sufficient sleep to grow into a healthy, unstressed dog. This is a common problem
with dogs that have been brought up in kennels or farm buildings rather than a house.
- On the other hand, if a litter of puppies is swamped with too much sensory stimulation not only in the early weeks but in their new homes as well, they will build up high levels of long-term
stress and will become hyperactive and reactive dogs for the rest of their lives. Dogs of all ages require the opportunity to rest and relax to reduce their stress levels. Otherwise, they will find
silence and being left alone very stressful and also they will build up high levels of long-term stress.
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