In this case, “Immersion” means being in an uncomfortable situation that causes stress. If the fear is too great and that the animal cannot escape, a trauma will happen.
Here is a common example:
- Fido is 9 weeks old and oh so cute. With his owner, they pass by a schoolyard and all the children run towards the puppy to pet him. They are not stopped because the puppy is young and he cannot harm them. But here what Fido feels: Aaaah, a dozen big monsters are coming towards me… I’ll die for sure! If Fido starts panicking and cannot escape, there is a risk he might end up traumatized.
- Fido will then start being scared of children and eventually start being aggressive to make them go away, because in his head, they are “monsters”. If Fido is not panicking or if he’s owner makes sure the experience ends up being positive either by containing the children’s eagerness or by reassuring the puppy, in that case, there should be no trauma.
It is therefore important to monitor the experiences of our puppy and make sure to manage the environment or the situation in order for the puppy to be less afraid or to make the overall experience enjoyable.
Be very careful when you bring your puppy to a dog park for the first time. It can be a great source of stress and your puppy can end up traumatized if you do not handle the situation properly. However, playing with other dogs before 4 months of age is necessary for the puppy.
It is also during that stage that the puppy learns how to speak “dog”. So choosing the right dogs you will you’re your puppy play with is quite important A dog that doesn’t “speak” well will not do calming signals and your puppy won’t learn anything. In the worst-case scenario, your puppy will make bad associations and when older, it will have a lot of difficulties making contact with other dogs.
It is thus imperative to help the puppy socialize, but the right way. Stressful situations should be avoided and anything let’s make new situations fun and enjoyable!
Catherine Gouillard, BSc Biology
Certified Animal Behaviour specialist