A recent Australian study has shown there is a correlation between puppy socialisation and aggression in the dog.

The researchers reported that unpleasant experiences occurring in public spaces while young may predispose puppies to develop aggression later in life.

Aggression in dogs has a number of important consequences, such as physical injury to humans and animals, reduced social contact and outings for aggressive dogs, and increased rates of surrender and euthanasia.  Aggression is difficult to treat in adult dogs, and preventing its development is preferable.

Socialisation of puppies is often encouraged as a means of teaching dogs to display desirable behaviours as adults, but there is conflicting advice about the age at which to do so. In addition, neither complete isolation or conversely, social exposure during puppy schools, has been linked to aggression levels in adult dogs.

Puppy socialisation and aggression survey

In light of these conflicting results, the researchers hypothesise that aggressive behaviour in puppies may, in fact, be a reason why owners restrict their social contact, rather than restricted social contact causing the aggression.

A retrospective survey of Australian dog owners was conducted online for owners of dogs aged 1-3 years, with 783 respondents completing the survey in a useable manner. The survey collected data on five topics: dog background, early living environment, social exposure experience, current behaviour and health. Dogs were then categorised as aggressive (it had ever shown aggressive behaviour toward an unfamiliar dog) or non-aggressive, and logistic regression modelling used to determine the predisposing factors.

Puppy socialisation and aggression survey results

Approximately half of the dogs in this survey received public social exposure prior to their last vaccination, and 34% had shown aggression at some point in their lives. Aggressive adults were more likely to have had their public social exposure restricted as puppies because they had displayed aggressive or fearful behaviour.

Contrary to popular socialisation advice, delaying public social exposure was associated with a lower chance of developing aggression. For every week that the owner delayed public social exposure, the dog was 4% less likely to show aggression as an adult. Other factors associated with the development of aggression were age, breed, source of puppy and use of physical discipline.

The researchers concluded that unpleasant experiences occurring in public spaces while young may predispose puppies to develop aggression later in life.

Researchers – Wormald D, Lawrence AJ, Carter G et al (2016) Analysis of correlations between early social exposure and reported aggression in the dog. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 15:31-

Article: ‘Analysis of correlations between early social exposure and reported aggression in the dog’ can be found in RSPCA Science Update January 2017.

So, what does this mean when choosing a puppy school?  

Pets4Life recommends you find a puppy school that:

  • Uses positive reinforcement dog training methods
  • Ensures carefully managed introductions between puppies during the class
  • Class size of four puppies in a puppy class (up to six if space permits and there are at least two instructors)
  • Does not use equipment: electronic collars, prong collars, choke collars, spray collars and flexi (retractable)-leads.

Find a good dog trainer near you.