Helping a dog become more confident
A dog might seem less confident when he is not with his owner or the dog(s) he lives with. He may lack confidence in novel environments or with novel items. Socialisation is the process where the animal learns how to recognise, interact, or ignore other species. The negative effect of inadequate socialisation is an important factor in the development of behaviour problems.
The effect of early socialisation on the later behaviour of a dog is very relevant to canine behaviour problems. It has been demonstrated that if a dog is isolated from 3 days of age to 20 weeks of age he will most likely be disturbed (Agrawal et al 1967). There are severe detrimental effects from isolation on later behaviour that include such problems as abnormal fear response, social inadequacy, increased aggression and decreased learning ability.
Developmental periods should be viewed as an epigenetic process during which the genetic potential of the organism unfolds in a given environment.
Epigenesis is the development of a plant or animal from an egg or spore through a series of processes in which unorganised cell masses differentiate into organs and organ systems.
A developing dog does not passively experience environmental stimulation; the organism is built such a way that he actually 'expects' certain kinds of stimulation during growth.
Puppies need to be socialised. They must learn to recognise and interact with other species. They must also be gradually and carefully exposed to environmental stimuli as part of that process.
After the age of 5 weeks puppies become more fearful about making new contacts and social experiences. The fearful tendency appears to peak at around 12 weeks. Prior to this, puppies quickly recover from negative experiences. Through breeding, a potential range of behaviour can be moved more towards aggression or away from aggression. When selecting a puppy careful attention to the behaviour of parents and even grandparents is vital. However, people who already have a dog cannot do anything to alter the genetics. Bu this does not mean the behaviour cannot be altered as even genetically influenced behaviours can be changed. Resilience does not eliminate stress or setbacks. It is a mental reservoir that enables individuals to better able to handle adversity and rebuild their lives after a catastrophe.
It is important to ensure puppies have lots of different experiences during the sensitive period as they will recover and not develop a fear of that stimulus. However, if they are not exposed to a particular frightening stimulus until after the sensitive period they could go on to develop fear of that particular noise or stimulus. Fireworks is a good example of a stimulus that a puppy is not exposed to during his sensitive period. What happens during the critical or sensitive period of socialisation can have a large impact on later behaviour. This is the time when puppies learn about their littermates, their mother, and humans.