We have a big family with people coming in and out of our home all the time. Are some dogs more social than others?
Just as some people are naturally more sociable than others, some dogs are little social butterflies, while others would just as soon be left alone, thank you very much! If you observe a litter of pups that is just a few weeks old, you’ll notice that some of the pups are shy and hesitant to being approached, while others are outgoing, confident, and more social. The effect of genetics on temperament is apparent even at a very early age.
Breed can influence the trait of sociability as well. For example, included in the AKC breed standard for the Bichon Frise is “Gentle mannered, sensitive, playful and affectionate.” Compare that with the level of sociability you might find in a Chow Chow, whose breed description states, “It is a Chow’s nature to be reserved and discerning with strangers.” Of course, individual sociability levels vary within any breed, but breed definitely plays a part.
One of the most important factors influencing sociability is the process of socialization. Puppies should be exposed to people, places, sounds, dogs, other animals, and all sorts of unfamiliar things in a safe, positive way at a very young age. In fact, the optimum window of socialization is four to twelve weeks of age.
A puppy who has been well socialized with people will naturally be friendlier and more outgoing. A puppy who has only been exposed to the immediate family for the first few months of life may be suspicious of strangers and even feel threatened by them, which can lead to issues such as fear-based aggression later in life.
Of course, if you are adopting a dog from a rescue group or shelter, information as to whether or not the dog has been well socialized might not be available. Look for a dog who seems happy to see you, and seeks your attention in a friendly way. It can be tempting to want to rescue the poor dog who is cringing at the back of the pen, but that dog is not necessarily the sociable family member you envision. Choosing a dog who is social with people is always important, but it becomes crucial when you have a busy household with lots of visitors.