In a lot of countries, dogs are treated inhumanely. Many of them are strays. It’s only natural that you want these animals to have a better life... here in the Netherlands for example. But are you really helping a stray dog by bringing it home with you? Socialisation is the key issue here, and at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Behaviour Clinic they know all about it.
The socialisation phase is a crucial period in early life. Behavioural Biologist Claudia Vinke of the Animal Behaviour Clinic explains: “During the socialisation phase, a dog absorbs a huge amount of information about its living environment. It is an extremely important learning period, that has consequences for the rest of its adult life.
With dogs, the primary socialisation phase starts when they are approximately three weeks old. At twelve weeks old, this phase is already over. Therefore, it is a very distinct and clearly identifiable period.
Animals that were insufficiently socialised, or not socialised at all, are referred to by behavioural scientists as being socialisation deficient. Claudia: “Stray dogs are primarily socialised to conditions on the streets, without people and with other stray dogs. They have difficulty dealing with the new stimuli in a Dutch residential area: you know in advance that these dogs will have a high chance of showing behavioural problems if they suddenly have to learn to survive in a family environment. Half of all the dogs that are brought to the Animal Behaviour Clinic with anxiety problems come from abroad from these kinds of situations. The prognosis is often bad.”
Animal Behaviour Clinic vet Marjan van Hagen adds: “These dogs are often separated from their mothers at an early age. That often causes attachment problems in later life. They also have to fight for food and have had bad experiences with people. Due to all the negative experiences, they develop anxiety disorders which make it difficult for them to cope with the stimuli in our modern society.”
All the impressions that a puppy misses in its primary socialisation phase cannot be caught up with later in life. “People are often very dismayed when they give a dog a loving home and offer it everything to make it happy, and the dog does not seem happy in its new situation”, explains Marjan.