|SOCIALISING THE MALINOIS
Socialisation is absolutely vital for any puppy, but probably ten times more important for a Malinois puppy than for any other breed. They are actually very sensitive dogs (that goes for both show lines and working lines) and can easily get spooked by new experiences. However don’t forget to make socialising FUN. One good experience is a LOT more important than two bad ones. With Malinois, it really is the quality of socialisation that counts above quantity. This doesn't mean you should only socialise your pup once a week or less, but it isn't necessary to do something every day, either. Your puppy needs to be able to simply be a puppy, as well.
The most important time period for a puppy to get socialised is from the day you get it home, usually at 8 weeks of age, up until 12-14 weeks. Everything the puppy experiences before this age it will usually accept as normal, and a young puppy will find it much easier to accept new situations than an older one. By 12-14 weeks the puppy will enter the first fear stage of its life, and suddenly will view new experiences with a lot more suspicion than before. And a Malinois can be VERY suspicious indeed.
Don’t try to socialise in very busy places UNTIL your puppy already enjoys going for short walks in areas closer to home and knows that collar and lead equal fun. Then start to take the pup into a town centre, into pet shops that allow dogs inside (Pets At Home is excellent for this, as well as small local petshops –and do buy your puppy a toy or treat whilst there!), and allow anyone who wants to stroke your pup -as long as the puppy is happy to be stroked by strangers. Let him or her meet a variety of friendly dogs. Try your best to avoid any dog that appears to NOT be friendly, as you don’t want your puppy to have any bad experiences –at least not until much older. (It would be a very lucky dog indeed to never receive ANY bad experiences during its life.) The more you repeat the same things, the more it becomes the norm for your pup and so it should never become a problem.
Examples of places to visit include town centres (small and large), train and bus stations, markets, car boot sales. If possible try to see other animals than dogs. Visit an agricultural show or similar. Meet people of different ages and different looks. Babies, toddlers, adults (in particular men), older people. People wearing hats, glasses, beards, people with walking sticks, in wheelchairs, pushchairs etc etc. You don’t have to accost every stranger you see to ask if your puppy can say hello as naturally not everyone will WANT to say hello to a puppy that isn’t of the fluffy cute lap dog kind, but if you get close and just watch that is usually enough. Sit on a park bench and watch the world walk past. Often people will approach you and ask if they can stroke your puppy, so agree! As long as your puppy is happy to say hello, that is. Do not force a shy pup to be touched by strangers as this will make it more worried. Always let a pup approach strangers on their own terms. Practice walking up a variety of steps –concrete, metal, wood. Stand by a busy road and just watch the traffic go past with the puppy safely on a lead. Visit your vet, lots of times, WITHOUT having an appointment for anything to be done. Just pop in to sit in the waiting room, maybe take the opportunity to weigh your pup if your vet have a set of scales in the waiting room like many do. This all works extremely well to ensure your puppy never gets worried about vet visits as he or she will learn that most of the time, nothing bad happens there at all. The staff at veterinary surgeries are usually only too happy to say hello to a puppy and have great understanding about you wanting to bring it in just to socialise. And remember –REWARDS !!! Have your pockets absolutely FULL of treats and if your pup has a high drive and loves tugging, also a tug toy, and each time you go to a new area or see something different, give your puppy a reward. Very soon your puppy will view new situations as FUN. A LOT of Malinois go through a stage from about 6-7 months onwards when they start to get spooked easily again, but with KINDNESS, never force, and patience the dog will grow out of this. We’ve all been through it with our dogs, no matter how experienced the Malinois owner. One day you will have a dog that isn’t worried about anything, the next a stranger will approach and your dog will jump away and not want to be touched. Don’t worry! Get people to offer the dog a treat, never force anything, if the dog is so worried it does not want to take a treat from a stranger's hand, ask them to not look at the dog and throw the treat on the floor/ground so the dog can reach it. Once mature things will usually get back to normal. But do persevere, do not simply avoid the situations your pup has become unsure about, as this will not help. If it is scared about something, start at a distance and reward, then over a period of time you gradually get closer. Needless to say, again, the more early experiences your dog has, PLEASANT experiences, the easier it will be. It all goes a long way to ensure your puppy grows up to be happy and confident and a pleasure to live with.
HANDLING YOUR DOG
Make sure you regularly stroke your dog’s face, and get other people to do this too. Malinois have a tendency to become headshy if this isn’t done regularly when they grow up. If stroked on the face, between the eyes, every day, they will love it –if not, they may shy away from a hand near their eyes. Needless to say, you should also get your puppy used to being touched all over from day one, so that you (or the vet) easily can examine the dog. Stroke the puppy all over, look inside ears, eyes and mouth, pick up the paws etc, and make it a NICE experience. If you are intending to show your puppy, find as many strangers as possible to go over your dog from as early an age as possible so that he or she will get used to being touched by complete strangers. It is so much easier to get all of this done at a very young age, than to start when the puppy is perhaps 5 or 6 months old.
Expose your puppy to a variety of noises from day one. My own dogs are all 100 % relaxed when there is a thunderstorm, or fireworks nearby, or indeed when there is a shooting party nearby actually firing guns. But a LOT of dogs have a fear of noises like these, and once you have one dog that is scared of for instance fireworks, more often than not it will pass that fear on to other dogs you may own. Likewise, if you start off with a dog NOT worried, I have found that they will all act the same. I am lucky in that I live in a rural area where we do get frequent gunshots as well as bird scarers, so my puppies will be used to such noises pretty much from birth, and the reactions (or rather, lack of reaction) from the adult dogs shows them the noise is normal and nothing worth bothering with, but if you are unlikely to come across such noises frequently, please invest in a noise CD. These can often be bought from pet shops and also on the internet. They include a variety of noises such as fireworks, emergency vehicle sirens etc, and if you play that CD in the background in your house on a regular basis from the time you bring your puppy home, the noises will all become familiar and non threatening. I would also recommend that you continue to do what many good breeders will have already started with their pups –regularly drop items on purpose to make a sudden noise, such as a saucepan, a metal food bowl and similar. Then make no fuss, just act as if nothing happened at all.
As long as you go that extra mile when a pup to ensure your dog grows up happy and confident there are few breeds as loyal, friendly and loving as a Malinois -yet they will defend you with their lives should they ever need to. But you MUST take the time to socialise your puppy well. You get back what you put into your puppy early on so it is well worth the initial hard work.