In most cases, the difficulties one encounters as regards their dog’s behavior and mannerisms have to do with their dog facing situations that they find to be negative, stressful and frightening. It follows, then, that if one could protect their dogs from all negative, stressful and frightening situations, they would have a more calm and well-mannered canine companion. However, the reality is that one simply cannot control their dog’s environment at all times, and would go mad trying to do so.
A better solution to raising a happy, healthy, calm and well-mannered dog is to expose your dog to many different types of people, animals, situations and environments that they may encounter in their life. This can include taking your dog to obedience classes, the veterinarian for regular check-ups and even walks in the park. A dog that learns how to handle himself in a wide variety of situations is more likely to develop a strong confidence and ease in their life, which can help them work through even the most unsettling of situations.
Socializing Your Dog Beyond Puppyhood
Most dog owners are well informed about the importance of socializing puppies. From the ages of three to twelve weeks, puppies are sensitive to socialization and their positive socialization experiences during this time can have long-lasting effects on their overall demeanor and well-being. Dogs that were very well socialized as puppies are often far more friendly and less fearful as a result. However, socialization should not stop after puppyhood.
Even dogs that were well socialized as puppies and appeared to have generally friendly, calm demeanors have sometimes reacted with aggression in the future when they encountered some difficult experience or situation. Even if they had absolutely no traumatic or frightening experiences in their life, the lack of continued socialization kept them from maintaining their calm, friendly demeanor and certain situations pushed them into fearful or aggressive reactions. There was one specific case where a couple socialized their puppy and frequently exposed him to other people and dogs so that he seemed to be generally happy and friendly. Then, when the couple moved out into the country, their dog had no real social interaction at all and suddenly started growling and lunging at any stranger he saw from the car or the house, rather shocking behavior considering his previous friendly disposition.
It is quite possible that a dog’s lack of continued socialization can cause their behavior to change so that they respond differently to environments and situations around them. Dr. Patricia McConnell discusses what she calls “juvenile-onset shyness” in her book “The Other End of the Leash”. Juvenile-onset shyness is a period in dog adolescence where they appear to become more cautious of and aggressive toward people and animals they are unfamiliar with. This may be indicative of the fact that dogs need continued socialization, with verbal and physical cues and guidance from their owners, throughout puppyhood, adolescence and adulthood.
Dog socialization does not have to be complicated or extremely time consuming. One can simply walk their dog frequently, allowing him to meet other animals and people in a pleasant atmosphere. One can also arrange dog play dates with other friendly dogs, or even trips to the local dog park. Dogs should be allowed to meet with people who come into the home, and see that this too is a pleasant experience.
A dog owner’s interaction with and training of their dog can definitely help improve and stabilize their dog’s behavior, but regular socialization throughout your dog’s life is critical to their well-being, health and happiness, and makes for a much happier relationship and home.