Most of us “in dogs” know about the importance of socializing our puppies. We wouldn’t dream of raising a show or obedience prospect without plenty of rides in the car, trips to new places, lots of positive experiences with new people and other dogs, and exposure to the world at large. We know all about the effects of under-socializing: lack of confidence, or even fearfulness, misplaced challenging and aggressiveness, inability to “read” the language of other dogs, and suspicions about even the most commonplace places and things. So what could possibly be wrong with socializing your dog?
I think the answer is . . . it depends. Let’s consider a few commonplace scenarios and think about why the resultant effect on your dog might not be what you wanted. Say you are at the ball field or park, and as you are scanning the environment for possible trouble (as you always do), you see a young woman approaching you with an obviously young, in love with the world, golden (or lab, collie, Brittany, etc.). The golden is happily lunging on the end of her lead, and paying no attention to her equally bouncy owner. JUST as they reach you she says, “Can Taffy say hello?” as Taffy careens into your dog’s face. By then your well mannered dog has determined that YOU are not going to be able to keep this canine bowling ball away from him, so he growls (or maybe even snaps) and warns her away. You, horrified at the aggressive behavior of your dog, jerk back on his lead as you scold him mightily. It’s plenty obvious to you that you have failed in your efforts to socialize your dog; he’s dog aggressive, and to a cute little bitch at that! Well, maybe. It’s also possible that you and your dog have just experienced “socialization” gone wrong. Taffy thinks it’s OK to mug any dog who can’t get away, and your well behaved dog thinks he’d better be on the lookout for all dogs that approach with their owners.
In another situation, the results may be even more disastrous. You are working hard to socialize your 3 month old pup to other dogs, and introduce him to an older male. Unfortunately this male just doesn’t like pups (they’re out there) and doesn’t give a hoot about puppy immunity. So your baby gets nailed, frightened and remembers the experience for a long time. In fact, you have to work extra hard over the next months to convince him that all big dogs aren’t bad.
Or, maybe you’ve signed up for obedience school, and the instructor encourages a 15 minute “socializing” period before class. Some of the dogs can interact safely, but you happen to have one of the dogs there who is more standoffish, and just doesn’t make friends instantly with everyone. He is continually bombarded with friendly, but “in your face” overtures, until he can’t take any more. Unless you are observant enough to turn the “Taffys” away, he may have to do it himself.
So socialize your pups and young dogs, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that everyone out there will love them as much as you do, or that they will instantly “take to” any and all dogs ever born. And be on the lookout for Taffy.