Q: What do you mean when you refer to socialization and dogs?
A: “Socialization” simply means giving a dog the skills to get along in the pack with other dogs, as well as with humans. Just like with human children, it’s the process of teaching them how they are expected to behave, but in the context of other people or animals. If you don’t tell dogs, or children, how they are expected to behave, then they will keep testing boundaries to see what they can get away with.
Q: How is socializing dogs different than socializing people?
A: With human children, it’s a learning process. We have to teach them the rule, and then tell them why — for example, “Don’t punch other kids, because it hurts them and it isn’t nice.” With dogs, though, it’s often more of an unlearning process. Because their human pack has been sending them the wrong signals and making them aggressive or anti-social toward other dogs or people, it’s necessary to distract the dog from that mindset and redirect them to the proper behavior.
Now, if a dog was properly socialized originally by its mother and pack, it will remember those rules once it has forgotten what it has been taught incorrectly. Even if that dog was never socialized enough as a puppy, they will still pick it up instinctually, especially if they have a pack of dogs to show them.
Q: What is the biggest cause of anti-social behavior in dogs?
A: Fear or uncertainty in their humans. I see this kind of thing all the time, and it’s a vicious cycle. The first time a dog shows a little aggression on the walk, the owner gets upset about it, and then worries. (And it may not even be aggression; often, it’s overexcitement.) And then the next time on the walk, and the next time, and the next, the owner is thinking in the back of their mind, “What if my dog attacks another dog or a person?”
What you’re thinking affects your energy, and your energy goes right down the leash to your dog. So, if you’re constantly worried that something bad might happen, you’re telling your dog, “Something bad is going to happen.” Then your dog sees another dog or a kid on a skateboard or a mailman, and bang!
From the dog’s point of view, they are providing the protection that their human isn’t because they are in a fearful or anxious state. From the human point of view, though, the dog is doing exactly what they most feared, and then it just gets worse from there.
It’s surprising how often I can take a dog that its humans have labeled as dangerously dog-aggressive, walk it into my pack, let it off leash, and watch as nothing bad happens.
Q: Are any particular breeds more anti-social than others?
A: My answer is the same as the same question about aggression: no. Any dog that is not properly socialized and lacks a strong pack leader can become anti-social. However, the reasons vary depending on the size of the dog. People are afraid of their big dogs, but afraid for their little ones.