The following are my tips for socializing your herding breed puppy such as a border collie mix, a German shepherd mix or a cattle dog, but really this post could apply to all dogs.
Sometimes herding breeds are extra sensitive to movement and sounds, but you obviously want to get any powerful breed used to different scenarios and meeting new people, if at all possible.
While reading this, keep in mind all dogs are individuals. While some herding dogs will chase and react to anything that moves, some border collies are couch potatoes. Some Aussies have no interest in Frisbees.
This post is generalizing a large group of dogs.
1. Get your herding breed puppy used to wheels!
These dogs are bred for herding, which is a wonderful thing, but that can also mean they’ll try to chase (and in some cases, nip) at anything that moves!
Slowly introduce your collie or shepherd puppy to runners, people on rollerblades, bikes, skateboards, strollers, motorcycles and anything else you can think of that she might be around as an adult.
See my post: Getting a dog used to bikes.
2. Keep introductions calm and cool.
When introducing your puppy to a new experience, try not to overwhelm her but encourage calm, curious behavior. Let her slowly investigate when it’s safe and when she seems interested. Reward her for calm behavior with food.
Don’t over-react to noises or movements yourself, even if you are startled. Stay calm and cool, like rollerbladers coming around the corner are no big deal.
3. Sign up for basic training classes.
I know, I know. Training classes are expensive and time consuming. And sometimes the class instructors may know less than you do about training.
BUT, there are few ways to practice working with your puppy around distractions – such as other puppies and other dogs. A training class is a safe way to do so where everyone else is in the same boat.
Hiring a one-on-one trainer is worth it too. Especially if you have specific training concerns or if you have little or no experience with dog training (totally understandable, we all start somewhere!) or if you need help with your specific breed of dog.
I like the socialization aspect of group classes, personally, but that’s also because my current dog is pretty easygoing.
See my post: Importance of dog training classes.
4. Get your puppy used to loud noises.
Herding breeds can be extra sensitive to loud noises. Safely exposing your puppy to various loud situations slowly over time and rewarding her for calm behavior can help her deal with this kind of “stress” in real-world scenarios.
With loud sounds or anything that could potentially scare your pup, just start out far away (so it’s less intense) and slowly move closer if she seems comfortable. Or, move closer to the source of noise the next time around.
Some examples you could seek out could be:
- Walking by busier roads with truck and bus traffic
- Walking by lawn mowers or other machinery in the neighborhood
- Randomly dropping books or coins
- Band instruments
- Fireworks videos
- Motorcycles and boats
- The sound of skateboards (Note that some dogs are triggered by the noise of skateboards and others are triggered by the movement)
See my post: How to help a dog with extreme fireworks anxiety.
5. Socialize your puppy to other animals and children.
I always like to stress the importance of listing out everything your future adult dog will need to be comfortable with in her life with you.
Some examples could be vacuum cleaners, car washes, car rides, cats, farm animals, strollers, doorbells, gun shots, people of all ages and sizes and wearing different hats and uniforms and moving at different speeds, crowds, events, playgrounds, etc. etc. etc.!
The possibilities are endless, really, but may best advice is simply to take your puppy out and about to as many new places and events as you can in the first six months. That alone will expose her to much of her new and future life with you.