The goal is to have a dog’s social behavior be such that it would be welcome anywhere. Sociable dogs are willing to go up to people and other dogs when invited but they also have enough calmness that everyone in the environment is comfortable with their presence. These dogs land in the middle of the sociability spectrum. On one far end of the spectrum we have dogs that are fearful or aggressive (unfriendly behavior) and on the other end of the spectrum we have dogs that are overly friendly to the point of rudeness. Neither end of the spectrum is sociable. In the middle of the spectrum is a dog that is calm but willing to interact with other people and dogs. It is this middle part of the social spectrum that owners want to shoot for in the socialization of their dog. Many dog’s sociability lies on just either side of the middle of the sociable spectrum where they are not really relaxed but can become relaxed with time. These dogs may not be a “problem” but behavior is not stagnant so they are at risk of developing problems.
The critical socialization period of the dog is between 8 and 16 weeks of age but socialization does not end there. The social behavior of the dog does not plateau until 3 years of age. Socialization must continue well into adulthood. Dogs and puppies need to interact (not necessarily play) with dogs that will not hurt them or destroy their confidence and they need safe exposure to a large variety of dogs (dog that are bigger, smaller and noisy) people, environments and noises.
To help owners to adequately socialize dogs of all ages The Well-Mannered Dogs classes teach controlled socialization regardless of the age of the dog but the socialization process is very controlled so all dogs receive a positive, safe experience. While in class, owners learn how to properly socialize their dog to strangers, novel objects, and dogs they do not know as well as how to other social experiences. In addition it is important that dogs learn to follow commands even when they are in the middle of playing with other dogs. This prevents them from becoming overly excited (which can lead to social issues).
Some dogs need more than basic socialization, they already have some serious issues. They may bark fearfully, bite or display some type of agonistic behavior (growl, snap, lung in a non-playful fashion, bite or fight). Dogs that are really challenged and become fearful, aggressive or just extremely stressed when around new dogs or people need some specialty training. These dogs need remedial training which involves an even more controlled environment and they need a training program that uses desensitization, counter conditioning and classical conditioning to change the dog’s emotions to relaxation or happiness.