People often find it hard to understand dogs. They seem so alien to us – they bark, they seem to communicate by peeing, they want to smell everything, and they only seem to understand English well enough to ignore it. Let’s see if we can simplify things:
A puppy is roughly the same as a human toddler. It can walk, run sloppily, make lots of noise, communicate a little bit, can’t control its bodily functions and needs constant supervision.
A full-grown, adult dog maxes out at the approximate maturity of an 8-year-old boy. It has mastered a few self-care skills -like using the potty in the appropriate place and licking ice cream off its face, it’s had some education, and learned a few things about the world. It still needs a significant amount of supervision, is still curious about most things, but can be trusted with some time alone, in his bedroom or in the backyard. Unlike the boy, the dog is going to remain at this level of maturity for the rest of its life.
And just like an eight year old boy, your dog’s behavior will be a reflection of what and how it was taught earlier in life. If the dog was treated harshly, then it will learn to expect that from the world, just like the boy will. It will go out into the world with a chip on its shoulder, always preferring fight to flight.
If, on the other hand, the dog has been coddled and protected inside the home, it is likely to enter the world confused and behaving inappropriately. Like a person raised by wolves, it only knows how people behave. It might become fearful, and fearful dogs can be aggressive – just like the 5th grade bully who picks on kindergartners.
Either of the dogs above could be dogs who are just afraid without knowing how to hide it. They look like victims to other dogs and some dogs, being essentially 8-year-old boys, are inclined to pick on victims. When victims run, dogs give chase. For that matter, when anything runs, dogs will chase it. But the fearful dog will remain fearful, at least until it is socialized properly, and that can always be done. While exposure as a young puppy is best, it is never too late to introduce your dog to new experiences. You may need to have a lot of patience, but it will be well worth it as the dog gains confidence.
But, if the dog is consistently raised with a firm but gentle hand, introduced to many different things early in life – including sounds, people in various “costumes,” other dogs, vehicles, and all different things to walk on, smell, roll in, and listen to, and been taught about limits and appropriate behavior, then that dog is likely to grow up to be a confident, well-behaved dog – a good doggie citizen.