Most people know that socialization is very important for dogs. However, most people forget or are unaware of what the goal of socialization is. Hint: It is NOT to make a dog overly friendly!
The goal or purpose of socialization is to have a dog that is comfortable and neutral in as many environments and situations as possible. You want your dog to be neutral to all types of people (men/women, adults/children, people with hats, beards, glasses, people who are carrying things), all types of dogs (big & small, fluffy and non-fluffy, prick ear and floppy eared, different energy types and personalities), as well as different sounds, surfaces, and objects.
Most people strive for a stable dog who is well-behaved in a variety of situations. A dog that is easy and enjoyable to take anywhere you want to go! If your dog is overly-social, they often demonstrate poor manners of pulling/lunging, barking, jumping, inability to focus or listen to commands at the sight or interaction of another person or dog. While these dogs are often friendly, they may not appear that way to the people who do not know your dog. Some dogs are so used to being allowed to say hi to people and dogs that they can throw a little temper-tantrum when we no longer allow them to do so. Even if your dog is overly-social you are putting them at risk if you allow them to greet other dogs- the other dog may not be as social as your dog is! Letting them say hi to everyone, which often creates over arousal, does not aid in having an 'easy' dog to take out in public that is well behaved!
The neutrality goal also applies to dogs who are not just predisposed to being overly social, but also dogs who are nervous, reactive, aggressive, etc. It is not uncommon to see nervous dogs become more reactive and even aggressive if we allow people or dogs to constantly say hi to them. If they are already nervous about these situations, and then they know this person/dog is going to say hi, they may start to bark, lunge or nip so the people don't come any closer. It is our job to advocate for our dogs and tell people that we do not want them saying hi to our dogs (or that your dog doesn't want to say hi). Our nervous, reactive, or aggressive dogs need to learn how to be calm and neutral if they see a person or dog, and it is in their benefit to ignore them.
How do you teach dogs to be neutral to the environment around them?
A LOT of passive socialization! What is passive socialization? Taking your dog out and reinforcing them for ignoring the world around them. This can be achieved by sitting and watching the world go by games, increasing handler focus, rewarding check-ins, etc. We discuss our methods in our Foundations 1 and 2 classes.
Hint: If you are struggling with passive socialization, you may need to start at a larger distance away from the distraction, only getting closer to distractions when your dog can easily ignore them.