Behavior problems are one of the most common reasons dogs are surrendered to animal shelters, but by laying a solid socialization foundation at puppyhood, many behavioral issues can be mitigated or avoided altogether. One of the most prevalent behavioral problems that causes dogs distress is social fearfulness, meaning they fear other dogs and strange people. Dogs can also have non-social fearfulness, which is the fear of different stimuli, such as loud noises, novel situations, or heights and surfaces.

Without early and continuing socialization, your puppy could grow up with behavioral issues that will be hard to correct. Here are five of the most common problems dog owners encounter with improperly socialized puppies, and how their lives are changed.

#1: Reactivity in puppies

One of the most prevalent—and most dangerous—results of improper socialization is development of fear-based aggression, which occurs when a dog is trying to warn someone to back off because they are scared. While we can understand why the dog snarls, snaps, or lunges at an approaching child, because they were never positively exposed to kids as a puppy, this can result in a serious bite.

Leash reactivity is another common form of fear-based aggression. If your dog was not properly socialized as a puppy, they are likely to lunge to the end of their leash, and bark at any approaching person or animal. Although they may seem excited about someone new, they are actually trying to warn away the potential threat. If the stranger or unfamiliar dog gets too close, your dog may feel they need to act more intensely to force the threat away, and resort to growling or biting.

The best way to prevent fear aggression in an adult dog is to socialize your puppy during their prime socialization period, which falls between 3 and 12 weeks of age, when they are the most receptive to new experiences. By ensuring each interaction with people, pets, and situations is positive, you can lay the groundwork for a confident, friendly dog. Keep in mind that when socializing your puppy, you must allow them to approach something new at their own pace. Never force them to interact with strangers or unfamiliar dogs, as this can make them fearful, and form a negative association. 

#2: Generalized anxiety and fearfulness in puppies

If your puppy is not exposed to everyday experiences in a positive light, they’re likely to be terrified of anything unfamiliar. For example, when you’re out on a walk and a plastic bag is flapping in the breeze, your dog may freeze or bolt in fear. Yard decor, neighbors saying “Hi,” and dogs on the other side of a fence can all trigger an unsocialized dog’s anxiety, making what should be a fun, relaxing walk, a tense, anxiety-ridden chore. A dangerous situation could also develop if your dog manages to slip from their collar or harness to escape from a perceived threat.

#3: Puppies who are difficult to handle

A dog who wasn’t exposed to positive handling as a puppy can be difficult to handle as an adult. Nail trims, ear cleaning, and basic grooming can instill fear in an undersocialized dog, making performing these tasks challenging or downright impossible without professional help. Start your puppy off right by pairing potentially unpleasant tasks, such as a nail trimming, with tasty treats, to form a positive association. Proceed at your puppy’s pace, and take breaks as needed, to give them time to investigate the nail clippers or brush. Do not hold your puppy down while brushing or a nail trimming, as this will make them more fearful and difficult to handle as they grow.

#4: Puppies who react negatively toward strangers

If your house is the neighborhood hotspot, filled with friends coming and going, an unsocialized dog can become extremely anxious, and may resort to fear-based aggression. When people come to your house to see your new puppy, ensure each experience is positive. Have strangers toss treats to your puppy, rather than offering them from their hand. Luring a puppy to come close to a strange person for food can make them uncomfortable once the treat is gone. Allow your puppy to approach at their own pace, and reward them with praise and additional treats for being brave. Creating a positive association with strangers from a young age will help make your home more peaceful as your puppy grows. Instead of barking and growling at everyone who visits, your dog will calmly and confidently sniff them and wag their tail.

#5: Inability to interact with other dogs

While you may want your dog to be a social butterfly and the center of attention at doggy daycare, lack of socialization as a puppy may make an adult dog uneasy around other canines. Ideally, your puppy should meet dogs of all sizes and breeds in a safe, positive manner, and learn how to “speak dog” correctly. Inadequate socialization can increase the likelihood of inter-dog aggression, because they cannot read body language cues appropriately. 

Start your puppy off on the right paw by scheduling their first visit at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital. An initial wellness visit will not only assess your puppy’s health, but also their behavior, and put them on the right path to adulthood.