Dogs live in a human world and have to learn what it means to live in our society if they want to get along and be liked. It includes learning about interacting with
1) Humans – getting comfortable with humans that are large, small, young, old, male, female, and all the funny clothes we wear and all the funny things we do.
2) Other dogs – all sorts of body language of dogs - what is play behavior, what is not, what is appropriate, what is not, how to greet another dog, how to show deference, how to try to calm the other dog, any so many other messages conveyed by body language.
Dogs have a period as a puppy when they are particularly good at learning social behaviors and environments. Depending on the source, you will see a window usually from a few weeks up until 18 weeks, or 4½ months. What you want to remember is 18 weeks. This is the end of the window. After this, socialization is MUCH harder to achieve. An older dog CAN learn socialization after this, BUT it will take more work, a lot more work. It’s always better to take advantage of the socialization window than to wait until you start to see problems.
What sorts of problems?
Your dog may develop a fear of any type of person they had not been exposed to – commonly men with low loud voices, men with beards, people wearing sun glasses or baseball caps, children that run and make screaming voices, anyone very different from their household members. They can also be fearful of unfamiliar dogs if they have not been exposed to other puppies learning the social doggie ropes on behavior. This can lead to bold posturing or cowering in your dog that can be misinterpreted by the unfamiliar dog and suddenly you have a scuffle or bad incident. Most of these issues can be avoided by proper socialization.
Stay tuned for Part #2 where we discuss how to best socialize your puppy!