Genetics or Learning

So what happens when someone acquires a dog that is not a puppy anymore? Since socialization has such a short window, a lot of people will not have the opportunity to socialize their new dog. While this is true, the good news is that dogs never stop learning. Yes, indeed, it is not the same to be able to take advantages of the first 12 weeks of the puppy’s life when puppies are fearless – and this is why their learning is enormously boundless.


When we are trying to right a wrong now that the dog is not a puppy anymore we will find ourselves with a tremendous investment of time for a smaller return. However, it is still well- advised to do the work if this means that the life of the pup will be better as the dog learns to be more resilient to novelty and learns to feel comfortable in a multitude of circumstances.

This brings me to the topic of genetics and learned experience. Which one of the two has more “weight” when it comes to making a difference in any dog’s behavior?

The answer is that they both do. There are behaviors that are deeply ingrained in the nature of the animal – still this does not mean that they are forever sealed without any possibility of change.

Others, are much more malleable and as such less resistant to change. I would also say that genetics and learning are much too complex to try and pinpoint with exact certitude as to the turn of events when it comes to making permanent changes in our dogs. One thing is for sure: If we capitulate to the lack of early experience or genetics, instead of giving the dog an opportunity for learning new behaviors, new ways to cope and relate, then we must agree that a puppy’s impoverished first weeks and genetics will always win.

The challenges that come with change are very often enormous and it is unfortunate that we (dog owners, trainers, breeders and shelters) find ourselves pressed for resources many a times. It seems that there is never enough money, time, trust, energy, etc. etc. It is also accurate to say, “that not all can be saved”. There are times where I feel this is the best option -especially when the well-being of the dog or someone’s safety is at stake. However, positive changes in the behavior of our dogs do take place on a regular basis and each one of them serves as a spotlight for hope.