Socialization is a critical aspect of canine development. Without appropriate positive exposure to a wide variety of potential stimuli, most dogs will mature with innate timidity to these situations. It is critical that during this sensitive period in puppies (4-16 weeks of age) repeated, reinforced exposure to various personality types, age groups, vehicles, environments, etc. must occur. This calm, controlled exposures should be consistently and immediately followed by positive rewards such as tasty treats and praise.
Failure to do this will often result in an animal which shows fear in these situations and will often shy away from people approaching. Often these dogs are assumed to have been "abused" if the dog's background is unknown. Once the window of opportunity that is the sensitive period is closed, it becomes very difficult to train a dog to not be as fearfully reactive in these circumstances. Over time, these dogs may resort to using aggression to manage those situations in which they experience fear or anxiety. Treatment involves:
- Initially avoiding access to fear invoking stimuli
- Teaching and rewarding calm relaxed behavior in the absence of the fearful stimuli
- Gradually reintroducing the fear provoking stimulus and rewarding calm behavior