Puppy socialization is kind of “the” topic in dog behavior these days. Your adult dog has a problem? Under-socialized as a puppy!
It’s something that really gets under my skin. My adult dog has a lot of psychological problems, including a general anxiety with anything new. He’s uncomfortable with anything that isn’t in a place that he expects it to be, and he has a lot of rules about what is “allowed” to happen where.
We are, in a way, the test-case for what socialization can and can’t do.
Because, you know, we did it all “right.” We went to puppy kindergarten. We met their suggested number of new people and new dogs every week. We went to stores. We went to a different park every weekend. We stayed in puppy daycare when he was still nervous around the other dogs. We went to obedience class so that he would keep getting exposure to people and dogs, and kept going back. We live in a major urban area. Nowhere we go is completely devoid of people.
There are places that I can see what good it did. The places that we went most often with puppy Silas are still his happiest places. He’s not likely to be the ambassador of the dog park, but, thanks largely to puppy daycare, I don’t have to worry constantly about what will happen if we meet another dog.
On the other hand, socialization on its own is just not capable of fixing everything. I’m sure that we could have done more. We could have had Ian Dunbar’s 100 people over to visit, instead of the three or four we managed to scrape up. Found some children somewhere for him to play with. Worked harder on getting him over his fear of cars, when he was still more impressionable. Put him in the better puppy kindergarten. But, you know, we’ve lived in the same house since Silas was five weeks old. He was “socialized” to every noise that this neighborhood is capable of producing. He still finds that noise overwhelming some days.
Don’t get me wrong–socialization is extremely worthwhile. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to live with Silas without that base exposure. The truth is, though, that socialization is not going to change your dog’s basic temperament. You can give your fearful dog the best start possible, but he’s still going to be a fearful dog. Don’t spend the rest of his life beating yourself up that you didn’t do enough when he was a puppy.