Many factors influence the temperament of adult dogs including genetics, whelping environment and the dam’s experience in the last trimester of pregnancy, but most importantly, experiences during the first year of a greyhound’s life can make all the difference to future temperament and character.
We know that puppies go through a particularly ‘sensitive’ period between six weeks and 14 weeks of age when the brain is developing and entering a ‘peak’ learning phase. Socialisation means exposing and allowing the pup to interact in a positive manner with different people, environments and animals during this critical time and can help shape their future ability to develop into a well-adjusted, sociable adult dog.
We know that confident, social dogs are more successful than shy, timid dogs and many scientific studies show a link between confidence, trainability and performance.
Greyhounds that are not well socialised can grow up to be fearful and may bite or act in other socially unacceptable ways when exposed to normal stimuli that are perceived as being threatening.
Although genetics are important in the development of fear in dogs, most commonly, what a dog will become frightened of depends on what the dog has encountered and the nature of its experiences in the early stages of its life.
Socialising greyhounds as pups can also assist with their transition to becoming a successful pet once they finish their racing career.
With breeding comes a responsibility to raise healthy, happy and well-adjusted dogs.
This information is written to provide guidelines on the best ways to socialise puppies but is also applicable for habituation (the process whereby an animal becomes accustomed to non-threatening environmental stimuli and learns to ignore them) of under-socialised or maladjusted (but not overly fearful or aggressive) adult greyhounds.
Excessively fearful or aggressive dogs require more specialised behavioural interventions and expert advice should be sought.
Guidelines for socialising your puppy:
Socialisation simply means exposing pups to anything a greyhound may encounter in racing or later as a pet including new people, places, dogs, other animals, environments and noises.
It is important to ensure this is done in a safe and encouraging way and that the pup associates these new experiences with positive things such as food, praise or play.
Begin slowly at first, gradually increasing the number of encounters and the time spent socialising as the puppy becomes more confident.
Observe your puppy for signs of anxiety or fear and remove your dog from the situation if the encounter is causing signs of negative behaviours.
An anxious and fearful puppy will try to look smaller, avoid eye contact, hold the tail low, put ears back and keep away from the new person or thing.
Try to engineer encounters that will be successful and rewarding.
When to start socialisation:
The optimal time to socialise a pup is between six to 14 weeks of age. This is the time when they are more likely to approach anything or anybody new willingly and without fear.
Older puppies become more cautious with new experiences and by the time the dog reaches about 14 weeks of age, anything not yet encountered is approached with caution and apprehension.
It is also important to continue to socialise beyond 14 weeks to ensure pups do not become fearful again if socialisation stops.
Continued, sustained and consistent efforts are required until the puppy is at least one year old to achieve optimal socialisation.
Greyhounds need to be confident when being handled by many different types of people, both familiar and unfamiliar, for example the veterinarian on track.
Handle the pup every day, practice running your hands over their body whilst they stand quietly, looking in their ears and mouths and handle their feet. Ensure a pleasant experience and reward them with food, praise and play.