Dogs are known to be very social creatures that adapt well to living in groups. There are recent studies that have proven that dogs are adapted at interpreting human signals and behaviour.
Dogs naturally live in groups of a mixed gender and of varied ages. Virtual social order or hierarchy, which is also known as dominance, is dependent on age. However, gender may also have a part to play in hierarchy, as most of the group activities tend to be led by a female member. Although it is usually assumed that social dominance is maintained by fighting, the truth is that the hierarchy is maintained mainly by dogs on the lower rungs ceding ground to those that are highly ranked. For dogs that live in the wild, those individuals that refuse to bow down to the existing social hierarchy usually leave and form their own groups, in the event that they cannot move up in rank. This is a situation that is comparable to a type of inter-dog hostility that takes place within households with many dogs.
In domestic dogs, the age between 6 and 9 months mark the attainment of sexual maturity, although this might occur much later in large breeds. Social maturity is attained between the ages of 12 to 36 months, and it is during this period that problems with violence and anxiety develop. Sexual hormones, especially testosterone, stimulate actions like mounting, fighting, urine marking and wandering. Neutering is a good way of solving these problems.
Dogs will naturally focus on other dogs around them during the ages of 3 to 8 weeks, but their attention shifts to humans when they are 5 to 12 weeks of age. Between the ages of 16 to 20 weeks, a dog is at its most receptive learning stage, open to being taught how to handle novel situations. After they are past this age, the learning rate slows down considerably and they just learn in a different way. It isn’t necessary to vary the exposure at any specific point in time, because puppies are naturally curious and will learn about their surroundings when they are ready. Dogs that are always locked up in kennels, or not exposed to humans by the age of 14 weeks, may tend to have poor social skills. The most appropriate age to adopt a puppy is when they are around 8 weeks old. Puppies shouldn’t be adopted until they are 7½ weeks old, unless there isn’t any other option.
Apart from Basenjis, most household dogs usually go through 2 heat cycles every year. Any member of the group can help when it comes to taking care of puppies. In groups with many members, it is the highest-ranking dogs that may breed.