In this week's video, feel free to skip to about 1:35 -- this is where the "action" that I'm going to talk about in this blog starts.
Is it important to socialize your puppy? Yes. Is it important to continue your dog's socialization as it gets older (especially during that tricky "adolescent" phase of about 8-14 months.) Yes!
I love the little kids in my North Portland neighborhood. They're all great kids! Unfortunately, in a lower-income neighborhood, many children's exposure to dogs have been unpleasant to say the least, and they've developed a corresponding fear of dogs. (One little girl that I talked with said that her (loose) pet dog was run over by a bus when she was 4, a relative was chased down by a police K-9 when she was 5, and she herself was bitten by an aggressive yard dog when she was 6 and again by her cousin's dog when she was 7, and chased by another loose dog just a few months ago!)
This little guy, though absolutely adorable, does not have what I'd consider appropriate skills to allow to meet and/or pet the majority of dogs. He'd picked up the stick after watching his (older) friend throw a stick for Halo to fetch, but then he seemed to be holding the stick pre-emptively, to ward off any possible attacks. His bounciness and up-and-down movement, and even the quick darting of his hands towards and away from Halo would seem threatening to many dogs, and playful/chase-inducing to many others. His older sister confirmed that he was afraid of dogs.
This is where you need to take stock of your socialization efforts and see exactly what your dog needs from you at any given time. In any given situation, what are you actually trying to accomplish with your dog?
For a dog who is nervous around children, movement or sticks, you'd simply get yourselves away from the child, and try again with a calmer child or with a child whose parent is there to help encourage proper behavior. These dogs need to be built up slowly, with calm children and the involvement of multiple adults.
For the majority of stable dogs who do not need to learn how to behave around bouncy unknown children with sticks, you might just encourage the dog to look at the child (from a distance), maybe ask for and reward a sit, and then a cheerful request to "Let's go!" and a reward for the Let's Go.
For a dog like Halo, who is known to adore children and who will be expected to work and focus around a great variety of experiences, you would do just what I did: allow for a medium-length encounter with you providing the majority of direction and heavy rewarding for correct behavior.
For a dog whose career is aimed for therapy work or service work with children, you would provide for an extended-length encounter with this little boy and allow the dog a little more decision-making (for example, instead of cueing the "down" so the child felt safe to approach, you would instead let the dog figure out that lying down encouraged the child to come nearer. You'd be there to curb any poor decision your dog makes, but the dog would be free to decide. Obviously this requires a dog with an extremely good basic temperament.) You would offer a little more coaching to the child (an important skill for the handler) in how to best approach the dog. YYou would give the dog the space, time and encouragement to understand this particular child and how to best interact with it. I can not say enough about the emotional intelligence of therapy dogs and their skills in deciphering the environment and deciding on their own how to best proceed!
When socializing a puppy and when continuing socialization with a young dog or even an adult dog, YOU are responsible for 1) Making sure that your dog feels "safe" around whatever you are trying to socialize it to, and 2) Making sure that your socialization efforts fit your ultimate goal in what you want to do with your dog.