Are we over socializing our puppies? This is based off of a hunch after being involved in the industry for about 20 years, I am seeing this trend.
People always ask how is that dog so good?
The dog the person is pointing at is usually owned by a person that keeps to themselves or is homeless or is seen as an outcast in society. Why would humans on the fringes of society have the best dogs?
I have a couple theories but one is that these animals are not over-exposed and over socialized before they have reached a mature enough age to handle that level of exposure. I’m reaching outside of my expertise but I wonder if we would find that the brain in these puppies is not developed enough to handle the stress related chemicals, something similar to children drinking under age when their brain is not developed. The chemicals are changing and possibly inhibiting normal brain development.
I have found some of the best dogs where dogs that were neglected as early puppies with their mothers. Of course this isn’t always the case! It just seems that there might be something to leaving young puppies alone to develop on their own terms.
There are likely other factors at play such as genetics and predisposition to being a calm, easy, level headed dog. We know this is true and why we have special breeding programs for service dogs that work on producing dogs that will fit a role in service work.
There is another thought and that is the dog is exposed to an insane amount of experiences and toted all over town, in the case of the homeless dog. The dog is exposed to traffic, people, sounds, a variety of food scraps, and forced to sleep under a blanket with their human for warmth. This also seems to produce a really well adjusted dog from what I can see.
Time and time again I witness people mistaking a tired dog for a “good” dog. So I’m not convinced that these dogs living beside the homeless are truly well behaved. My suspicion is that this group of dogs is exhausted from the constant moving and stress they endure every day. Just like us, dogs need a good night's sleep to function at maximum ability. If they are chronically tired they would likely be lethargic and unenthusiastic about their surroundings.
This brings up another group of dogs that frequently gets classified as “good”: the farm dog. Traditional farm dogs are living the best of both worlds. They get a lot of variety and activity in their day, are typically pretty sheltered since most farmers don’t have a lot of visitors and aren't known for taking their puppies to puppy socialization classes. Often when we picture a happy dog, we picture a dog on a farm around other dogs, animals, and always by their person’s side.
The more time I spend in this industry the less and less I am selling puppy socialization classes. Each puppy is unique and I do think that there are important lessons to be learned at a young age but I think we forget dogs have come to live as man's best friend, not to be the most social at the neighborhood dog park.
I think that the best socialization plan is individualized for the puppy that you have.
If you have a shy puppy that seems scared of their own shadow. Keep them sheltered! Give them time to grow up and let their brain develop. Try to offer other kinds of mental challenges to help them work their resilience-muscle. Don’t take them to puppy class or any group training class. You may not even want to take them into town or around a lot of traffic.
If you have a bold or over excited puppy I would recommend the same as the shy puppy. I might advise slowing down their socialization to a crawling speed. You really want to help them learn how to control their emotions and their behavior first. This takes maturity that comes with age. I have definitely seen over-socialized overzealous pups turning into reactive dogs when they are older.
I have said it before that dogs don’t grow out of behaviors, they grow into them. So if you are seeing extreme behavior when you are introducing your puppy to something new then stop and rethink your socialization plan!
The best socialized dogs are dogs that got exactly the right amount and type of socialization that they needed when they were ready for it.
Interested in enrolling your puppy in puppy classes check out the one-on-one dog (and cat) training sessions we are offering at Dog River Pet Supplies in Hood River.
If you have a puppy and you want help designing your puppy’s socialization plan and getting to know them on a deeper level then consider signing up for one of our program subscriptions. We will help you scientifically and systematically socialize your puppy based on their unique personality and your goals.
Finally, if you have high hopes and big goals for your puppy such as having them become an office dog, adventure dog, service dog, therapy dog, or anything else consider enrolling your puppy or young dog in our Immersion Program. Where we will create and execute their development program for you.