Socialization is a concept that will haunt a person until the very end. A lot of people think that this term means going to the city with the puppy a few times, taking it once by train, once by bus, and the older the animal gets, the more the owner will be able to devote themselves to other God-loving activities, but the opposite is true.
Socialization is generally divided into two types:
Both of these parts are equally important and each has its positives, they complement each other and provide the owner with a solid foundation for the most trouble-free life with their four-legged companion. Socialization becomes a lifelong process for a dog, something that needs to be started well and continued to be strengthened. But it is often a nightmare for the owner, for many reasons; either because they don't have the time/energy, or because it's basically a minefield that requires a lot of empathy, foresight and time, because the dog moves forward one step at a time, and goes back five steps. No scholar fell from the sky, so a lot of mistakes can happen, which then need to be corrected patiently.
And while this is a necessary part of living with a dog (at least if you don't want to have a dog just tied up somewhere in the countryside with minimal contact with anything living or inanimate), it's not something that should be pushed too hard. Precisely because mistakes move the handler and the dog back a few steps, while successes move forward very slowly, it is better to invest time and energy in trying to take at least a small step in the right direction with the dog than to iron out problems. Problems have one disadvantage - if there are really many of them, their correction becomes a little more complicated than the previous one every time, and if a person does nothing but correct the lost progress, they lose precious time that could have been devoted to moving forward. It is therefore often better to miss a seemingly unique opportunity for socialization, which would be done very hastily and thoughtlessly, than to rush into something headlong, albeit with good intentions, and not foresee the potential consequences.
The primary and most important purpose of socialization is for the handler to have as much control over the situation and their dog as possible. This is also why the progress is often slow, as it is necessary to start at levels where this absolute control is still possible. As soon as the handler is not completely in control of the situation and the dog, there is often a high chance of a mishap. This rule must be kept in mind by the dog handler in any situation. It's always better to catch up successfully later than to find yourself in a situation where you're just mitigating the impact of a mistake.
Under passive socialization, we can imagine something that usually doesn't come to mind, that is, not giving the dog experience through practice, but simply through observation. Although it may seem to us that a dog does not learn much by observing, owners of two or more dogs can confirm the opposite. It is not a one-day event, after one attempt the dog will not repeat the activity that it has observed all along, but the longer it is allowed to observe the behaviour, the greater the chance that it will take something from it. However, it is important to create the right atmosphere for the dog, in the best case, to have the dog slightly tired so that it is not distracted by the surrounding sensations, or to keep a sufficient distance so that the situation does not stress him. The better you manage to let the dog observe the situation in a calm state, the better results can be achieved.
Active socialization is what we would always like to do with a dog - simply go somewhere, do something, or see someone and hope that the more often we expose the dog to this sensation, the better it will react to it. In some cases, people choose active socialization also in order for the dog, or more often the puppy, to punish himself and learn a valuable lesson. Because we know from our own experience that when our parents preached something to us, we didn't have the same respect for it as when we experienced the mistake ourselves. But a dog is not a child... And it is impossible to subsequently have a conversation with him about responsibility, the wisdom of elders and trust. It is this trust that needs to be strengthened with each new socialization element; maybe not from the start, but rarely will a dog give you 100% of it the first time it is alerted or exposed to a situation. Therefore, it is important to try to avoid these self-punishments. Very often, the dog gets a slightly different result from them than we had hoped for, and in the end, it has zero benefit for us and for the dog's trust in us. So, it is often more of a way to save a little work, but without real profit. Although it may seem annoying at times, the longer and more often we are able to “hold our dog's hand”, the better for us. Ultimately, as has already been said, the dog is not a child and we do not want him to gain independence in the future - it will be with us his whole life and will rely on us during it. If it is taught that it can rely on us, we can avoid many unpleasant, even critical situations in the future.
The intensity of the reaction and the need to consolidate it to the new socialization element will, as in everything else, vary from dog to dog. To a large extent, the general approach to life with people can be influenced by socialization of the breeder, but genetics and predispositions also play an integral part. A whole range of personalities can thus occur in one litter – from intrepid adventurers to timid introverts and all possible combinations of the two. As owners, we should be able to set realistic goals; we don't turn a fearless dog into a quiet mouse, and a coward will most likely never become a 100% fearless animal. But we can improve or support these character traits to such an extent that every day is not full of stress for the dog. So, we can have a brave dog turn to us with trust rather than trying to solve the situation in his own way, and a timid dog can be an inquisitive adventurer who may come here and there for a bit of reassurance before going on another exploration.
As already written, socialization requires a great deal of empathy and tolerance. The dog is not an oracle and does not tune into the owner's frequency every morning, according to which it then lives the whole day. It is its own identity with its own moods and needs that the owner must take into account if they want the whole process to bring only benefits for both parties involved. Often owners imagine that socialization means dragging the dog along to places and activities until it gives in. And I'm not saying that it's not like that sometimes, but it shouldn't be like that all the time. There is a difference between feigned stubbornness and genuine fear, where pushing the limits could result in fear aggression. So, if the dog shows signs of fear, there is nothing wrong with complying with the dog. This does not mean avoiding the given situation completely, but it is a signal to the owner that they should find a better way – start slower, use more play, treats, or other positive support. An empathetic and at the same time assertive approach will help the owner to overcome any obstacle with the dog without causing trauma and at the same time without the dog learning that when it starts to tremble, the owner will not demand it to participate in the given situation (this is how some clever individuals try to avoid wearing harnesses, etc.).
The black sheep in the socialization herd is the so-called "sensitive period". It's an aspect of living with a dog that isn't discussed nearly as often as it should be, and during which an uninformed owner can make more mistakes than outside of it.
Sensitive period can strike at any time and in anyone - it occurs in puppies, teenagers, adults and does not discriminate by breed or size. In practice, it looks like, for example, one day you have an open dog at home who is used to strangers, and the next day a timid reactive dog who does not like people's attention. These periods are caused by hormonal changes in the dog's body and are in no way a fault of the owner - simply put, the dog has so much going on at once that it doesn't know what to do with itself, let alone with the rest of the world. Detecting a sensitive period can be easier or more difficult, and as soon as an owner notices strange changes in behaviour of their dog, it is better to assume that it is the case and act accordingly than to think that the dog is up to something that day and deal with the situation in a way that could hurt the dog even more.
A dog in a sensitive period needs even more empathy than at other times. It is in such a tense state on his own that any attempt to solve the situation or his reaction by force can drastically worsen the progress you have made with socialization up to that point. The world will cease to make sense within a short period of time, and it needs you all the more to help it through this period successfully. The degree of effectiveness of the sensitive period is individual - in some dogs it can manifest as a one-day change in behaviour, in others it is a period of weeks or months. Especially when it comes to relationships with people, it is necessary to proceed very carefully and socialize in minimal but positive doses; so if you find a sudden problem with reactivity to people that wasn't there a few days ago, for the duration try to avoid screaming children and over-enthusiastic adults and seek to socialize the dog with people who can stand not talking to and not looking at the dog for the duration of the interaction, and do not touch him in any way. You can increase the number and then the intensity of these small interactions over time with visible improvement. Likewise, try to find canine partners who are balanced and calm rather than dogs who are overly hyperactive and reactive.
In any case, if you suspect a sensitive period, it does not hurt to discuss the situation with the breeder and possibly the trainer. As has been written before, still not as many people know about the sensitive period as they should, so you may come across trainers who want to deal with the situation in their own way.
Although these people are more or less experienced, and even if you, as the owner, may not consider yourself a top cynologist, your dog is still your partner, you spend all your time with him, you know him best. If at any time during practice you feel that your dog is not being treated in proportion to the condition it may be in, you have the right to stop the activity at any time and either ask for a different approach or leave. You may not be lucky enough to find anyone in your area, but the CSW community is large and there is always someone to help from far and near. Don't let your dog be unnecessarily traumatized by people who (albeit with good intentions) won't work with your dog appropriately during a sensitive period.
Last but not least, a lot of the advice written above applies throughout the dog's life. In the event of a problem, even though it may seem like a more difficult path at the time, it is always better to ask “What is wrong? How can I help the dog?” rather than assuming that "Bastard dog slept wrong again and is making a mess.". Even during active socialization, think about how you actually socialize passively, and what the animal can learn when you try to get the puppy/dog used to a new situation.
Especially with small puppies, a person tends to protect them from everything and everyone, and into that gets mixed the information that if they do so, they will have a spoiled, unsocialized dog, so the owner then tends to go to the opposite extreme, which is to let the puppy explore on his own axis with minimum intervention. Neither situation is completely correct, and you start to feel it especially in adulthood. I'm not saying that walking the fine line between one and the other is easy, but we should at least try to be aware of how one or the other can harm the puppy and later us. So keep in mind the information that this is still a predator, a dog, not a child, but also that this is a creature that will eventually be shaped by a lot of complex perceptions and experiences, just like us humans, and needs at least the same careful approach and gradual dosage of sensations, as if it were a child.