Are your looking for a dog that is friendly and trustworthy around both people and other dogs? You probably think that all you need to do is find the right breed or dog. The truth is that how you care for your dog is what matters. How he is brought up to respond to people and other dogs is something that is taught when you've got a puppy.
In every dog's life there is a period in the puppy’s development (up to about four months of age) when all of his experiences will have a big effect on the way he approaches life. If there are lots of positive encounters with other dogs and people during the development period, he is far more likely to grow up to be a confident, relaxed, and friendly dog. This is the socialization process.
When puppies aren't socialized they tend to grow up to be fearful of other dogs, people, and many environmental encounters. This is what often leads to aggression. In a study from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, it was found that puppies who aren't socialized are 580 times more likely to have aggressive behavioral problems.
So when is the best time for socialization? Puppyhood. But this is not the only time you should be socializing your dog. As dogs age we tend to continue with the socialization training on a lesser extent. This is the wrong thing to do. As your dog ages you should still continue with the socialization process. If not, your dog will eventually begin to lose these skills and may become aggressive towards dogs and people. That's why it is not a good idea to isolate your dog during adulthood. If you notice any signs of aggression or extreme timidity, get help from a professional trainer or behaviorist right away.
How to Raise a Friendly Dog
So what is the best way to socialize a puppy? Below is a partial listing of some of the main things that you can do. Just remember that it is your responsibility to properly socialize your dog. And it is also up to you to continue this socialization training throughout your dog's life.
- Don’t take a puppy away from his mother and littermates before eight weeks of age. Interactions with their moms and siblings teach young puppies a lot about getting along with other dogs. If you take your puppy away from his canine family too early, you’ll do permanent damage to his social skills.
- Give your dog plenty of positive experiences with other dogs. Obedience classes, dog park romps, and playdates with your friends’ dogs will help him learn how to get along with other canines. For puppies, playing with other pups has another, even more important, benefit: it teaches them not to bite humans.
- Give your dog plenty of happy experiences with all kinds of people. Big kids, little kids, running-skipping-yelling kids, tall men in boots, round women in hats, and people of every shape, color, and size. If your dog gets regular exposure to humans of all stripes, especially in puppyhood, he’s less likely to be fearful or aggressive. Experts recommend throwing “puppy parties” to expose a young pup to lots of different people when he’s learning how to behave around humans. You can also have your dog make friends with the mail carrier and your neighbors, and take him to cafes or to work.
- Let your dog live indoors. There are no good “outdoor” dogs. A dog who lives in the home, with his human pack all around him, will be more comfortable with people and the bustle of the household, and he’ll be much happier too.
- Expose your dog to all kinds of noises and experiences. Skateboards, bicycles, lawn mowers, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and the like can frighten a dog who’s not used to them. Nail trimming, being grabbed by the collar, getting touched on the rump or other potential “hot spots,” and having people around his food bowl won’t get a warm response either. The solution is to expose your dog to all these experiences, ideally during puppyhood. If you have an adult dog, be sure to move slowly and keep the mood positive, with food treats to reward him at each step. (This works for puppies too.)
Bottom line: Teaching your pup to be dog- and people-friendly is your most important job as a dog owner. It keeps people safe around your dog, and — since aggressive dogs are often put down — it keeps him safe around people. Give your pup regular exposure to dogs and all kinds of people, especially during puppyhood, and you’re more likely to have a confident, sociable dog.