Understanding your dog.
Updated: Feb 26
Genetics, proper socialization, and social maturity...
We love our dog's - and they become such a big part of our lives. It can be so extremely stressful when we are dealing with there behavioral challenges. One of the main reasons people struggle with certain behaviors with dogs is not what we would probably assume: the dog was abused, it was a rescue dog, they didn't get it as a puppy so it wasn't socialized, it was just born like this. There are so many factors that go into a dog's behavior. As much as we hear the term "it's all in how you raise them" that couldn't be further from the truth. If it was all about how you raise them, we could raise a labrador to do schutzhund work and be a great intense police dog. We could train a golden retriever to run 125 miles a day pulling sleds like a working siberian husky could. We could get our doberman to act like a labrador and not feel territorial of their house... In my ten years of work with dog rescue and training dog's professionally, I see a lot of owners who truly need help understanding their dogs behavior before we begin the training.
Genetics vs socialization -
Genetics do matter. So does proper socialization and training. Many dogs absolutely love other dogs, and they thrive on the social interactions being around other animals. Some dogs don't care for other dogs and remain neutral passing by with minimal interest. Some dogs hate other dogs, and don't enjoy at all being in the presence of another animal. They would completely enjoy their lives if they never had to be forced to hang around other dogs ever again. We absolutely can get our dog selective dog to hang around other dogs safely through training, but we can't force a dog who truly dislikes other dogs to go into a dog park and play. Each dog is individual and it's important that we understands there limitations as well.
It's entirely more common for a pitbull terrier to be more likely to end up selective with dog friends when they hit social maturity. It's very common for a labrador to remain extremely social with other dogs as a fully matured adult dog. We don't see dog aggressive labs to often. Can there be exceptions to this? Of course. But if we know our dogs, and what to expect - it makes dog ownership that much easier.
If a client is adopting a husky puppy, I am going to urge them to be consistent with the ongoing training, give that dog plenty of physical exercise, and prepare for the traits of the breed like high prey drive towards small animals - as well as safe confinement as they are notorious escape artists. The more they know - the better the outcome will be for that dog and their owner. The better the relationship will be for the years to come.
When we know what we are looking for in a dog to begin, it helps both the dog and owner to be successful in the long run. Good rescue groups, as well as reputable breeders will match dogs with prospective owners. Most good rescue groups will not allow someone who has never adopted a dog to come and adopt a 100 pound rottweiler mix who has already shown signs of territorial behavior. A good breeder will probably not sell a working line german shepherd puppy to a green family who has never owned a dog before.
Proper socialization is extremely important as well. I have seen puppies who have had a bad experience while very young grow into adulthood and have fear based aggression around that experience. The interesting thing is socialization is not what we would think. It is not bringing our puppy into a dog park and allowing fifty new dogs to surround them. It does not mean bringing them to a loud party for six hours without a break and having a hundred people interact with them at one time. It's controlled, short and positive exposure to new things. It's extremely important that when raising a puppy, they get this proper socialization. By not bringing a puppy out into the world until they are 4-5 months old for the first time can be a huge disadvantage during such an important imprint-able socialization period.
If you have a doberman who could mature into a dog who may be on the pushy side or be protective of his home - starting training early, setting rules and boundaries in the house, and having good control of your dog will result in a much better outcome for dog and owner. You can start obedience training while they are young, controlled socialization, and stopping any unwanted behaviors as soon as they start. Training is so important because if you have a strong breed who may not love strangers approaching them, or other dogs at the park - you can still have complete control and a very well trained dog out in public and in the house.
Last but not least. . . social maturity. It's not a commonly discussed topic when people are getting puppies or adolescent dogs. Aside from new puppy clients, the other most common clients call us about is when there dog's are between 1-3 years old and hitting social maturity (males tend to mature later than females.) Owners will often times notice a shift in their dog's behavior - a behavior that wasn't present just a few months ago. The cattle dog who used to just get really worked up herding guests and barking just bit someone badly. The terrier who played fine at the dog park the last 15 months just got into his first dog fight and it was serious. The shepherd mix who would whine to say hello to other dogs has started lunging and barking when he see's other dogs now. The husky who liked innocently chasing squirrels in the yard got ahold of the neighbors cat. Your dog at 6 months old is not going to be the exact same dog at 24 months old. Dog's mature. They leave puppy hood and enter the world of adulthood.
The key to having a successful relationship with your dog is first, understanding your dog.