I am often asked questions about socialization for puppies that are intended for personal, Schutzhund or protection. This week has been particularly heavy in that category and I have been swamped by questions from people who have the notion that if you socialize a young puppy it will ruin its potential as a protection dog.
Here is an example of a question I recently received:
"Hi, I saw your 6 month old in training. I was wondering how you felt about socializing dogs before 6 months old and doing any sort of puppy obedience if you’re going to use your dog for schutzhund. I’ve been told that socializing my puppy before 6 months of age can potentially ruin them. How else can they learn bite inhibition?where did you learn how to train for schutzhund? "
I wish I could say this question is uncommon, but it is not. Ok, Paul and anyone else reading this post here is how I feel about socializing puppies in the first six months of their life. I feel that anyone that tells you NOT TO socialize your puppy prior to six months knows absolutely nothing about developing dogs. Period. I would run, not walk from this advice. It is absolutely wrong headed and is based on a very, very old wive’s tale type mentality. Puppies that are not extensively socialized in the first four months of their lives will grow up with very limited ability. The technical term for this is called sensory deprivation and has the effect of actually causing permanent physical developmental issues inside the puppy’s brain. The layman’s term for this is Kennel Dumb. Any puppy intended for protection work not properly socialized will give the appearance of being protective. He will growl, snarl, bark at strangers and generally act like a viscous dog and stroke the weak mind of the owner.
These dogs, when pressed, will fold under true pressure from an attacker and will run away. I have personally demonstrated this to many a person that just refused to understand the difference between aggression based in fear and aggression based in solid, natural protective instincts. I have ran full grown Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Malinois and Pit Bulls completely off the field bare handed and armed only with a yellow rubber ducky squeak toy. As I approached these poorly socialized dogs they all put up a very valiant front. Barking and posturing like they were really, really tough. But, anyone that can read dogs would know it was all show and bluff intended actually to avoid fighting rather than inviting a fight. True protection dogs have fighting drive. They enjoy the fight and look forward to a challenge. Poorly socialized dogs are afraid and are only putting on this show to make you go away in hopes of avoiding a fight. As I continued to approach these paper tigers they would stiffen up, show teeth, and raise the hair on their back - all in an attempt to make themselves look formidable. But, as I got closer and closer the dogs became more and more concerned.
Most started backing away before I got within ten feet. Those that held their ground to within four feet got attacked by the rubber ducky from behind my back. As the ducky came out and squeaked all the dogs broke and ran. Most would still be running had their owners not been holding them on leash at the time. Needless to say this is a very sad demonstration and the owners were visibly upset by their dogs’ failure to protect them from the awesome rubber ducky. I am always sad for them as well. I do not like showing people that they have been led astray by the advice to not socialize their puppies, but I feel that if I do not show them, and allow them to believe their dogs are capable of protecting them, it will only further this ignorance. One simple fact. True protection dogs are not afraid, they are not mad, they don’t show teeth and their hair doesn’t come up on their backs. Those are all signs of fear. Dogs that are afraid will always make poor protection dogs and never make it in the sport of Schutzhund, where their fear will be exposed by a correct helper and judge.
I have never seen a fearful dog pass a Schutzhund protection test if the helper did his job properly. I will address the question of early obedience training in another post, but I believe early obedience training that is based in positive reinforcement methods is good for all dogs. I would not recommend heavy handed leash and collar work for any dog that will be later be expected to compete in tracking and protection work, since this type of training will affect their confidence. Look at the video I have posted of my puppies doing early puppy obedience. I happily invite you to come test them in protection armed with only a rubber ducky. You will leave bleeding. These dogs do not have fear. I hope all those with questions post. This is a good subject for discussion and debate. There is a time to start limited socialization with a dog intended for personal protection. I would love to discuss that further.