Does socialization mask behavioral sensitivities?

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Postby pitbullmamaliz » January 13th, 2011, 10:01 pm

Allison's post in the Rescue section (Erin's thread about her puppies) caught my eye and she said I could feel free to start a discussion here about it. She said this about habituating puppies to different things:

furever_pit wrote:These kinds of exercises are designed to expose and stimulate puppies to different elements of the world in the hopes that it will assist in the prevention of fear issues like environmental or noise sensitivities.

Personally, I prefer to see the raw material when I go to check out a litter. The litter that I picked Cairo from experienced most of their firsts right in front of my eyes. I got to see how they reacted naturally (and thus what lies in their genes) without the interference of any pre-exposure. When done this way, these things act as a test for the puppies that exhibit character strengths as well as flaws.

I can't say one way or another but it seems to me that intense "socialization" of the kind that Erin describes could potentially mask noise or environmental sensitivities and potentially affect how puppies are picked and what homes they are sent to.

Again, I am coming from the viewpoint of a working dog. My whole mission is to weed out the weak temperaments and capitalize on the strong. I want to know what the raw dog brings to the table because that's what you breed on.

However, for a litter of rescue pups who come from (if I remember correctly) at least a fearful mother and potentially a fearful father...it might be a good idea. I don't know. I am quite interested to hear what Erin observes with these pups and how her interpretations of the individuals develops over time. All in all, I think it's pretty cool that she is so dedicated to put all that work in.


Obviously not many of us are approaching this from a working dog position like Allison is, which changes things, but I'd be interested to hear different viewpoints on this. Does socialization/habituation mask sensitivities? Or does it prevent them?
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Postby TheRedQueen » January 13th, 2011, 10:05 pm

Thanks...I wanted to respond, but didn't want to clutter up my own thread! lol

Of course...the puppies started crying right now, so I'll have to come back later!
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Postby airwalk » January 13th, 2011, 11:20 pm

While I've managed to avoid having an entire litter, I've fostered and socialized a bunch of pups. In Allison's case, you have an experienced handler looking for a specific trait for specific purposes. I'm assuming, Allison, that you are typically dealing with litters from specific bloodlines where you are able to ascertain backline temperaments??? (I may be wrong here).

When I deal with a rescue puppy that I am raising for a companion pet in an average home, I am looking to expose the puppy to as many things as I can while they are still too young to overreact and while everything is in play mode precisely to desensitize them to everyday activities, noises, textures, etc., that they are likely to encounter in an "average suburban home".

I assume that most (sorry my shelter background here) average surburban homes are not likely to understand and to spend the amount of time. It has been my experience that they struggle with the normal "fear" periods of puppies so the better the jump start I can give the pup, the better a chance at success.

So I understand where Allison is coming from, I completely applaud what Erin is doing. The more exposure, the more confidence, the less reactivity, the more likely to remain in a home even through the 3 month, 9 month, 18 month - Oh my god it's a scary monster time. JMHO
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Postby TheRedQueen » January 13th, 2011, 11:27 pm

Darting in for a minute...in between puppy walks and adult dog dinner times...

Everyone that I know that breeds for a reason (sport dogs-flyball agility, k9 disc; service dogs; conformation dogs) does the exact same thing. I'm not just doing this because they're rescues. I'd do the same thing if I happened (dog forbid) to have a litter that I purposely bred.
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Postby airwalk » January 13th, 2011, 11:31 pm

I agree Erin, it's how I raise puppies, but I do understand Allison's perspective about wanting to see the raw dog when you are choosing a specific breed for a very specific working purpose.
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Postby madremissy » January 13th, 2011, 11:37 pm

airwalk wrote:I agree Erin, it's how I raise puppies, but I do understand Allison's perspective about wanting to see the raw dog when you are choosing a specific breed for a very specific working purpose.


When you say that Diana are you talking about protection dogs so that they don't get used to things so they will be on higher alert. I don't mean to be ignorant but I am interested in what Erin is doing but trying to understand what Allison is saying.

Ellaborate please mam :)
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Postby airwalk » January 13th, 2011, 11:47 pm

Well I don't want to speak for Allison but if I'm reading her correctly...what she is talking about is when you are choosing a dog for a specific working purpose, be it protection or whatever, you are trying to see the truest form of the dogs temperament at it's most base level.

What Erin and I are talking about is modifying that base a bit through desensitizing and socialization. Puppies are naturally curious and most are naturally pretty confident. They have no idea there are things in the world of which they should be afraid..so you capitalize on that by exposing them to lots of different things. It's been my experience that puppies go through some natural fear periods. About 3 months, 9 months and 18 months (I personally refer to it as the Oh my god it's a monster and will eat me)..for instance, one of our Staff's Min Pin is about 6 months. He had walked by a dog statute in our lobby twice a day, every day for weeks...he hit about 12-15 weeks and it suddenly, out of the blue, became a big scary monster that he had to bark at....but because he has been so exposed to so many things it didn't become a fixation, just a momentary fear. We were able to move past it quickly.

I expose my foster pups, well all my dogs, to as many different things as I can. I look for opportunities to expose them to big, loud, wierd, feels funny....so their response to those things anymore is pretty nonchalant. Have a modified, to some extent, my dogs temperament base through training...I believe I have.

Does that make sense?
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Postby madremissy » January 13th, 2011, 11:50 pm

Perfectly :D Thank you.
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Postby amazincc » January 14th, 2011, 12:00 am

I'm still majorly confused. :?

How does NOT socializing and exposing a puppy to all sorts of things and people make for a well-rounded dog in the future?
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Postby airwalk » January 14th, 2011, 12:05 am

Christine I don't think it does. If I did I wouldn't raise each of my dogs the same way...what I think was meant (again I don't want to speak for Allison) is that when she is choosing a dog initially she wants to see the most base temperament.

I don't think she is saying don't socialize or desensitize, she just prefers to see them before that happens.

Hey Allison, jump on in any time.
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Postby BigDogBuford » January 14th, 2011, 12:30 am

I think for most puppies more rather than less socialization is better. However, I personally know of one case of owners over-socializing a naturally fearful puppy into neurosis.
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Postby plebayo » January 14th, 2011, 2:38 am

How does exposing a dog to different things make their reaction any different if the dog is not exposed to things? I mean, a puppy who truly lacks confidence, like their personality is insecure - sure if you expose them to things you help gain their confidence, however if the dog isn't confident by nature they will still approach things in a cautious way. By socializing them you help them cope with their fears, but the dog is still an insecure dog.

I don't really think socializing the dog changes anything. You can condition a response from a dog, but I think a confident dog is always going to approach things bravely, a fearful dog is always going to be cautious, a dog who doesn't care is always not going to care. You can teach them coping skills, you can broaden their horizons, but I don't think socializing a dog really changes their true personality or really how they approach things.

I hope I'm getting my point across. I realize that a "raw" dog will react differently to stimuli than a dog who has been socialized to it, however I think the socialized dog is just more educated on how to handle the situation.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » January 14th, 2011, 8:12 am

I agree with Suzanne - if a dog lacks confidence, you may be able to bolster it a bit but you'll never have a dog that eagerly approaches new things/situations, no matter how much socialization you do. And if by some chance you can take a timid dog and teach it to enjoy new things/situations, wouldn't that show how trainable it is?

I would think that even with working dogs, you'd want them socialized at a young age to a lot of different things because then you can start training the major stuff sooner, without having to worry as much about the fear stages.

I guess my question for you, Allison, is what age are you seeing these pups? If you're seeing them exposed to things for the first time around 4 weeks, that's a lot different than waiting until a pup is 8 weeks.
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Postby LMM » January 14th, 2011, 9:55 am

The more exposure, the more confidence, the less reactivity, the more likely to remain in a home even through the 3 month, 9 month, 18 month - Oh my god it's a scary monster time. JMHO


What Diana said, yes.

We've had a couple litters born into the rescue and we start exposure even in utero. After they are born, more with different noises, different surfaces, lots of visitors, lots of pushing their little envelopes so to speak.
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Postby LMM » January 14th, 2011, 10:01 am

In response to what Suzanne and Liz are talking about, imagine that fearful or non-confident puppy if you DIDN'T socialize. I more see puppies as a blank canvas. Sure I know genetically some puppies may be naturally predisposed to timidness or fear but I don't think they are the majority, so early socialization can only help.
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Postby SisMorphine » January 14th, 2011, 10:03 am

As usual in discussions like this I'm going to start my saying: I wish I could find my damn notebook from behavior class!!

That being said, I do remember that there are 7 different elements that go into an adult dog's temperament. 6 of those we have no control over because they are either bred into them or it's something that they get from mom and siblings within the first few weeks. The last element is human interaction and socialization of the dog.

Depending on which behavior theory you read the time line can vary, but the EARLIEST that I've read of a dog's temperament being "set" is at 12 weeks old. So if you're taking that puppy home at 8 weeks you have 4 weeks (or more, again depending on which theory you read) to socialize that dog as part of setting their temperament.

Though with older dogs we can desensitize them and can train through behavioral issues so that they don't LOOK like they have a problem, I don't believe that socializing a pup to humans/dogs/environment etc as a youngster is going to mask anything, instead it is going to become part of their final temperament.

And if I ever find that damn notebook I can let you all know the authors of said theories. LOL!
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Postby madremissy » January 14th, 2011, 10:09 am

Ayssa, since you work with working dogs and been around a little with working dogs, do you want this to be part of the puppy's early development? I am once again confused on why it is not good for a working dog. I thought I remember you socializing Teeny babies quite early.
I am just having a hard time why it would not be beneficial for all dogs to go through this. :|
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Postby SisMorphine » January 14th, 2011, 10:40 am

Personally I'm of the belief that super socialization (and socialization meaning human/dog/environmental/etc) as a young pup is an important part of their development, whether the litter is destined for a leisurely couch potato life, the life of a high drive working dog, or anything in between.

Now what Alison is focused on is the possibility of the heavy socialization masking inherent temperament flaws. But personally I feel that anything you do with a dog that young is going to go into the building of the dog's temperament since I don't believe that the dog's temperament is set only by genetics.
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Postby madremissy » January 14th, 2011, 10:46 am

SisMorphine wrote:Personally I'm of the belief that super socialization (and socialization meaning human/dog/environmental/etc) as a young pup is an important part of their development, whether the litter is destined for a leisurely couch potato life, the life of a high drive working dog, or anything in between.

Now what Alison is focused on is the possibility of the heavy socialization masking inherent temperament flaws. But personally I feel that anything you do with a dog that young is going to go into the building of the dog's temperament since I don't believe that the dog's temperament is set only by genetics.


So really it is to each their own basically. Thanks for the explanation. :)
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Postby SisMorphine » January 14th, 2011, 10:58 am

madremissy wrote:So really it is to each their own basically. Thanks for the explanation. :)

Yup! Amongst working dog breeders specifically you'll meet some who are married to the Von Falconer method and will only ever use that. You'll meet some who change their methods with each litter, depending on their experience with the last. And you'll meet some who won't do any of it because they believe that the dog's temperament is set by genetics, period. Just like with dog training, it comes down to what makes the most sense to you as to which method of puppy raising you believe in.
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