I have a 4 months old jealous great dane. At home he’s great but can be a little timid. I had him to puppy training to learn some simple tricks and try and socialize him. Now he has some jealousy issues when other dogs are around and is starting to growl at men who come near or try and pet him! He even growled at a small boy. I am concerned, and don’t know what to do.
The class was probably a mistake. Dog to dog socialization imprinting occurs between 3 and 6 weeks of age and most puppies aren’t even in a dog owner’s hands until 8 weeks so dog to dog socialization is finished. After that the rest is maintenance and that should be with familiar dogs, not a once a week encounter with strange dogs.
In a litter or a pack, each pup or dog knows the other and the limitations and advantages it has within its social group is reinforced hour by hour, day by day; with puppies under the watchful eye of their mother. Legitimate rough housing experiences that might accidentally cause one puppy a painful experience are kept in context because that puppy has interacted in the past and will continue for some time in the future with whatever puppy bit his tail or sat on his head.
This is not so in the puppy “socialization” classes that encourage risk-ridden free for alls where the pups are encouraged to “play.” That is not just play. The pups are jockeying for pack position without the benefit of day to day interaction that helps them learn who to push and who to take a subordinate posture with.
Without context of daily interaction a puppy that gets steam rolled either by one or more of the other dogs can and believe me often do end up fearfully aggressive towards other dogs. Alternatively, the pup that comes into the class with the size, attitude that has it coming out of every class with the impression that the sun rises and sets on their masterful leadership of everything canine. For these, later in life they can get into some awful scraps with chance encounters with other dogs that have the real goods.
What does the most frustrating damage to dogs and owners that attend these “socialization” classes is the sin of omission. True socialization cannot not be achieved in these classes and they mislead dog owners when they are left thinking they can. Masterful socialization is the preparation of a puppy for all of the sounds, sights, textures, and smells that life will soon throw at them, not some once a week hazing frat party. That means multiple structured to be positive yet real encounters with infants, toddlers, 8 year old boys (a dog’s worst nightmare), seniors, skateboards, thunder, and much more. It’s up to the owners and it takes hours every week to do it right. It’s what turns a puppy into a bomb proof unflappable adult dog.
Instead of being in that class your Dane should have been out there being handled and given treats by men and boys and much more. It may not be too late. Hire a private trainer to show you how to extinguish the aggression and replace it with a positive expectation.
For any readers with puppies, I have a free puppy socialization cheat sheet for you or you can buy my book on the topic for a more thorough overview of what to do and why it should be done.