Two Misunderstandings About Dog Socialization

I’ve been a dog trainer for almost 20 years.  In that time, I’ve been thrilled to see a growth in the awareness of the need for dog socialization. Twenty years ago you rarely heard anyone talking about socialization. Now it’s heard fairly frequently.  This is great news because socialization, when it’s done right, can have a dramatic impact on a dog’s life.  But the key is…”when it’s done right.” There are two common misunderstandings about socialization that sometimes get in the way of doing it right.

Here is my puppy, Ranger, meeting firemen as part of his socialization scavenger hunt!

1. The first misunderstanding is that socialization just means introducing the dog to a bunch of new stuff. Mere exposure to things is not socialization.  It’s true that dogs, especially puppies under 4 months of age, need exposure to new environments, people, and animals.  But socialization is not just introducing dogs to novel things.  In order for socialization to be effective, your dog needs positive associations with the novel things he encounters.

  • For puppies this is vital. The importance of socialization for a puppy under 4-months of age lies in the fact that positive experiences can have long-lasting effects on your dog’s behavior.  You are shaping the puppy’s view of his world at a stage in the puppy’s life when he is receptive to learning.  Positive experiences help him learn that new things are fun, and hopefully he’ll remember the good association when he encounters them again later.  However, fearful experiences at this age can also have long-lasting effects. Your dog can learn parts of the world are terrifying.
  • During socialization, if a dog of any age is hiding, drooling, bolting to the end of the leash, shaking, clawing, or yelping, then he is not having a positive experience with his environment.  You either need to change your method of socialization or you may need assistance from a trainer.

So how do you best socialize your dog? For every introduction and new environment, follow these basic rules

  • Create space: Keep your distance from the new situation or person until the dog shows a willingness to move forward
  • Use treats: Feeding tasty treats (chicken, liver, beef, cheese) to your dog while he is experiencing something new will help create a positive association for the dog. Additionally, one of my biggest reasons for using treats is that if your dog suddenly stops eating, that can be your first warning signal that your dog is getting nervous.  When an animal enters a fearful state, he will normally stop eating.  You have a built in alarm system to your dog’s feelings!  Use it.
  • Go slowly: The dog sets the pace, not you. If your dog needs 5 minutes, give him 5 minutes.  Forcing him to go faster will generally backfire and make the dog more scared.  Ever watched kids in line to see Santa?  If they are crying from 10 feet away, do they become more or less upset when they are suddenly plopped on Santa’s lap?  Usually more. Same with your dog.

If the methods above do not seem to be working with your dog, you may have stumbled upon the second misunderstanding about socialization:

2. Socialization is not the same as behavior modification.  If your dog is having a hard time getting comfortable around specific groups of people (men, children, people with hats, etc) or environments (on a walk, in a car, on the leash, etc), you do need to help him.  But the solution may not be socialization (and if you are going to try socialization, please refer back to #1…mere exposure is not socialization). You may need the assistance of a positive, force-free dog trainer!

I hope everyone will get out and socialize their dog.  Follow the basic rules about socialization and be mindful of the two misunderstandings about socialization in order to set yourself up for success.

How well adjusted is your dog? Check out this fun scavenger hunt and find out. This is a great tool for your whole family to use to make sure your dog has positive exposure to a wide variety of things.  You can see my dog, Ranger, in the photo above meeting firemen during his scavenger hunt!  Get your FREE download and get started today!

Do you know of other problems with socialization? I’d love to hear about them.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

101 thoughts on “Two Misunderstandings About Dog Socialization

  1. Nice article. I have been reading a lot lady on socialization and am convinced that we, as owners, are trying far too hard to socialize dogs who are just not social dogs. I focus on german shepherds so it is perhaps breed specific with me, but I believe it applies to all dogs too – they are not cats, they are stronger personalities. Obviously if a dog is having negative reactions to other dogs or to people, that is a problem and they should be socialized just to calm them. But a dog doesn’t need to be best friends with everyone, or even care about other dogs. As long as he cares about you, the owner, and listening and respecting and obeying you, whether or not he’s a social butterfly shouldn’t be a priority.

    • Astrid, This is a great summation! I think you make a very valid point that people are trying too hard to socialize dogs who are just not social. I completely agree with your comments here!

      • I have a dog who is not a social dog at all. He is an old grumpy gus. I foster & I am a photographer for a rescue, so I have quite a few strange dogs in and out of the house. My Buddy doesn’t go into attack mode, but he does say– stay away from my comfy bed I’m in. If the other dog gets too close to him, he moves away. He’s a great dog, he’s just not into making friends, so we let him be.

    • Extending Astrid’s excellent point, I feel that positive associations are valuable, but socialization is really finding an acceptable set of rules for dealing with others in various situations. That would include a dog who generally wants to be left alone, but who learns how to deal with people or dogs who come up to him. For instance I see some at dog parks who walk around, happy to be just watching the others. If a dog runs over to invite play they know how to politely say no, all is peaceful and all are happy (with a positive association).

      But some owners may comment they’d really like to see their dog play. I point out that their dog does look happy, and that they are there for what the dog wants.

  2. Nice. I have a dog that is terrified of everything. I have been working with her for over a year and got very excited when she started taking treats from me in environments that were scary for her. She will now take them in the car and during some training hikes. People think I am crazy for being so excited that she takes a treat in such environments. But I do know that she is now comfortable enough for treats there. And she is taking treats much faster after exposure to new environments than in the beginning. So it appears that she is learning that the world is not all bad.

    • K, this is wonderful! You should really be proud of yourself for making this kind of progress. Celebrate the small victories forward and know that you are doing great things to help your dog feel safe . She is very lucky to have you! It’s a huge shift in the emotional state of a dog when they can go from “fight or flight” (i.e: not eating) to feeling safe enough to eat. That is no small feat! Keep up the great work.

  3. I really like the article! People seem to be at one extreme or the other in regards to socialization, especially with puppies. You have the people who are terrified that their puppy is going to get parvo that they practically keep the poor thing in a closet. Then once the puppy gets older they are left with a wild and unruly animal or a dog that is scared to death of new situations. Then you have people who push their puppy and/or dog into doing everything that they are the slightest bit apprehensive about and the puppy/dog remains scared and now doesn’t trust their owner. Also improper socialization, or lack there of, is a big reason dogs end up in shelters every year.

  4. This is very helpful to me, I have a frightened little Foster that is blooming but it helps me help him. Thank you.

  5. excellent article on Socialization. I’m going to take my 4 month old on short outings for more exposure to worldly events. I’m hoping for a secondary response of not getting car sick.
    Thanks for the great information.

    • Thanks, Skeeter! Have fun with your puppy. You might try giving a couple ginger cookies to your dog before going for a ride. That sometimes helps with motion sickness.

  6. I am babysitting a friends 1 1/2 yr. old collie (almost Grand Champion!). He is one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met. He is the only dog I would trust around my 13 yr. old collie. Tonight I took them for a walk at a local soccer park. Some 10-13 year old kids were finishing up and started walking towards us. I thought he would just wag his tail, but instead he stood straight and barked at them. I immediately said “no” in a stern voice the first time, but he did it again. I said “NO” in a more stern voice and he barked a few times AGAIN! Then I said “NO” and held his mouth shut for a second. Very dissapointed to see the kids were afraid of him and the parents glared at me. Why did he do this? Thanks!

    • based on what i was taught by the trainer i had for my dogs this is why i believe the dog did this, dogs are a pack animal so their owner is their leader and because you are not the dogs owner (leader) the dog sees u as being lower down the chain in the pack , so to speak, because the owner was not present the dog took on the owner’s role to protect and did not listen to your commands because he considers u underneath him in the pecking order. it might help if the owner does some training with the dog and you to help you and the dog b re aligned in the pecking order. hope this makes sense.

    • Hard to say “why” without knowing the dog. He may have been overly excited for some reason (such as the soccer game itself), he may have felt he needed to protect you, he may be nervous around kids generally, or nervous this time because he was in a new situation (with you). If he was being nervous, and was trying to tell the kids to keep their distance, a better response might have been to move away so he had a little more space and felt safer. Again, it depends on the dog and why they’re reacting the way they are, but in some situations, “correcting” the bark/growl can actually backfire: they’re telling you their scared and want the scary thing to go away, and you correct. But what they learn is not “don’t be scared” but “don’t bark” – so the next time this happens, they’re still scared, but don’t give warning, so someone thinks it’s ok to keep approaching and if they make the dog scared enough, they may get bitten.

    • Hi Suzy, It’s hard to say why, without seeing the dog but if I had to guess I was say he was probably just nervous. He was in a new environment, without his regular owner, and something strange was happening. With three different things going on at once that could build up to lover his overall tolerance level from what you might have seen if only one of those things was happening at the time.

    • Has the dog ever been around children that age? How many “kids” were there? How did they approach the dog? Were they all “ganged up” together? Were they noisy? Were they standing tall and simply “coming at” the dog? This dog perceived those kids as a threat of some sort, and was simply letting them know they needed to keep their distance. Without knowing the exact situation, it’s hard to really to analyze in any depth, but my guess is, this dog has not been exposed to children this age. And was simply being “cautious”.

  7. Very good article that makes some excellent points. Another consideration is what to do when there are no trainers anywhere near your area. And by this I mean within 150 mile radius. We live out west in a rather remote part of the country. Although the advice of seeking a professional trainer is great, it is not realistic for some of the population. It would be great if more articles would address a bit more “how to” instead of immediately referring to a professional. Thank you for the good advice in this article.

    • That is a very good point, Debi. It is really hard to give specific how to advice because for most dog trainers there is a great deal of “nuance” that goes into every generic idea about training. Be sure to check for their trainer search. Maybe you can find someone close to you that way. Otherwise, I would recommend watching “It’s Me or the Dog” if you get that tv show. Books/videos by Patricia McConnell, Ian Dunbar, Pat Miller, Colleen Pelar, Sue Sternberg are also good.

  8. Hi, I have an imported Dogue De Bordeaux girl, that I did not have at home until she was 19 months old after all the quarantine requirements. She has been a “kennel dog”, and had limited interaction and I very much doubt that she has ever had any kind of genuine love in her life. I am her third owner and I love her to pieces. I have had her for 6 months now, and she has made some awesome progress, but I am having trouble with her coming to me when I call her. She does not accept treats unless she is in the lounge room, this seems to be her comfort zone. When outside, she will trot away with her tail between her legs and cower and try to hide in the garden. I would appreciate any advice or help. I live in a rural area with no dog trainers nearby.

    • It sounds like she might be afraid of being outside (which is understandable if what she has been used to for a long time is kennels). You could break it down into very small steps – try treating her only for spending time on the side of the lounge room closest to the door/hallway, then when she is comfortable move a couple of feet at a time, only when she is comfortable. You might only move a foot each session, but you will get there in the end. (It is good to keep in mind you want to treat most for relaxed body language, so that you are not training fearful body language) this is easiest by moving at her pace – so finding the balance of taking small steps that she is happy with. The same applies to once you get her out the door, take small steps, and remember to watch her carefully and praise and treat the smallest interest she shows in anything. Also remember that dogs respond to your energy – so if you are anxious or nervous for her she will pick up on that, so try to keep yourself positive and relaxed.
      If she is ever not moving towards you, don’t forget every behaviour can be broken down into smaller parts or steps. Eg you could treat her when she looks at you, after a couple you will notice her look at you more often. Most behaviours that you treat will get bigger, so then if you wait she may look at you and stand up, so you can treat that, then wait and she may look at you and stand up and take one step, treat that. It may sound tedious, but it can actually all happen quite quickly once an animal realises their behaviour affects the treating! Don’t reinforce one step for too long though, try to get the animal to offer a little more once it is offering the behaviour it has been rewarded for. It is easiest and most effective to mark desired behaviour with a clicker, so do some reading if you are interested 🙂
      Good luck! I’m sure she will get there in the end with your love and patience.

    • Hi Lynda, I think Kate has provided some excellent advice. You might also try keeping her on a leash so she can stay close to you when outside (assuming she finds comfort in you). Sometimes if dogs have too large of an area it can be overwhelming. At this point I would not work as much on “come” as much as I would just get her used to being in a new environment. You might even try feeding her meals on the back porch just so she gets used to being outside (I would probably try this right next to the door and with the door open so she can retreat inside if she feels overwhelmed).

  9. based on what i was taught by the trainer i had for my dogs this is why i believe the dog did this, dogs are a pack animal so their owner is their leader and because you are not the dogs owner (leader) the dog sees u as being lower down the chain in the pack , so to speak, because the owner was not present the dog took on the owner’s role to protect and did not listen to your commands because he considers u underneath him in the pecking order. it might help if the owner does some training with the dog and you to help you and the dog b re aligned in the pecking order. hope this makes sense.

  10. I took my puppy to a socialization class and it backfired so bad. It was a horrible experience for her. The “trainer” worked at a veterinarian’s office and had 6 or 8 puppies in the class. She (the “trainer”) had us all take the puppies off their leashes and run around. There was a puppy in the class that towered over my puppy and this dog just kept rolling my puppy over onto her back and attacking her. (all puppies were under 4 months of age.) The “trainer” instructed all of us that if our puppies came up to us or wanted on our laps to totally ignore them. So now, not only do I have a 8 year old dog that HATES all other dogs, she lost all respect and confidence in us. I’ve had dogs all my life and have never had to deal with any of these issues before. I would love your expert advice. Thank you for your time.

    • Hi Carla, I’m so sorry you had a bad experience with your puppy class. I hate to hear that. Since it’s been several years (I’m assuming) since your puppy class, I’m hoping your dog has come to trust you more. I would continue to work on building your relationship with her through fun outings, teaching obedience or tricks using positive reinforcement techniques and continuing to be your dog’s advocate. It’s likely that she won’t get to the point that she loves dogs and wants to play with them, but hopefully you can get her comfortable enough to walk past them if you take her for a walk. Hope that helps.

  11. Allowing a puppy or dog to run up to a person or another dog is not appropriate socialization. Some dogs and some people, including children, think that this is rude behavior. Your puppy or dog is more likely to have a positive experience if you reinforce sitting and waiting quietly as a first contact behavior.

  12. A lot of issues with dogs lack of socializationis that they are taken away from the litter too soon. They need to be with momma and the littermates for several months, not just six weeks. Keeping them in a pack, with their siblings and a good momma in a good env helps immensely. Having the litter around other dogs, cats, people of all ages in a basic clean, well managed env is the best. I had a momma who I found whle she was pregnant. She gave birth to 7 puppies. Those that were around until 3 months old, playing with the kids, the cats, the other dogs in the house and their siblings and momma were the best behaved, socialized puppies ever. Prospective adopters would ask me if they were on drugs! No, they were just socialized and well behaved pups.

    • Great point, Karen! Usually when I see puppies who have left their litter before 7-8 weeks they are not as well adjusted because they do miss out on some critical socialization and learning from mom and the siblings.

      • I would appreciate your comments on the situation of there being only one puppy in the litter, therefore no litter mates. Toy breeds often have small litters. I am considering adopting the puppy in this case and wonder if there are disadvantages in doing so.

        • Hi Harold, The disadvantage to getting a puppy that is the sole puppy in a litter is they do not get the chance to learn some critical information from their littermates that happen during the first two months of life. Singletons tend to have problem understanding other dogs because they miss out on a critical part of their education. If you get this puppy I would recommend trying to find other puppies of a similar age he can play with during the first several months of his life and a good positive reinforcement trainer who can help you identify any area you can work on to help the puppy with socialization.

  13. Where were you when I was trying to teach my puppy ? I sure wish I could have found even better help then ! Everyone who cares about a dog would want to raise it right . What a struggle I encountered finding good information, like yours, and not misinformation. What a great service you are doing ! A well trained dog is a joy and one that is ill trained , not so much!

    • Thanks, Holly. It can be a challenge with so much information out and so many different recommendations! Thanks for reading the blog.

  14. Great article. We have a sweet six year old shelter rescue mix that we adore, and she’s been quite tough on this issue. We’re pretty sure based on her behavior that there was abuse early in her puppyhood (she was found abandoned with her litter in a box on the side of a freeway, for starters), and we made great strides with her during her first two years, but then an incident at a dog park set us back again. We still haven’t been able to get her back to a place where she’s comfortable playing with other dogs at the park, but we can have her in a small area by herself and she watches them without distress, which is huge for her.

    I asked her vet about it once to see if there was anything else we could be doing, and he just smiled and said “You know, sometimes God just crosses the wires that way and we love them anyway.” That jives well with your encouragement that a dog can be well-socialized without being a social butterfly.

    Anyway, thanks for the great posts here. Very helpful!

  15. I have a 15-month-old boxer who LOVES the park. Surprisingly he loves swimming (I was told boxers didn’t swim) and he’ll spend a good amount of time fetching a ball or toy in the water. The rest of the time, he wants to run or wrestle. If he finds a dog equal to him in stamina and strength, he does great. But when he finds a dog that’s submissive, timid or has no interest in wrestling, he becomes a giant pain in the butt. He starts biting ankles and eventually tries to pin the dog to the ground. He then starts growling in a manner that sounds really mean. I, of course, always pull him off but he becomes relentless and then no longer listens. His body language doesn’t tell me he’s trying to attack the dog, but I don’t like the sound of his growl or how he continuously picks on the poor dog. Any suggestions for how we can stop this behavior? I’ve heard this is a boxer thing (he likes to play rough, wrestle, etc.) but I don’t want him to be viewed as an aggressive dog.

    • Hi Kari, Yes, to some extent this is not uncommon for boxers. Some dogs are just very persistent and think if they try hard enough the other dog will eventually come around! You are doing the right thing by calling him off. You may also have to put a leash on him to get him to come away. I would remember that if you ask him to leave another dog they you’ll want to try to reward him too. Normally I don’t like to bring treats to the dog park, but if I am able to give my dog a treat without it being noticed by other dogs, this is one of the times I would use them. If you call your dog away and he comes over to you alone, I would be sure to give him something tasty . Otherwise, there is no benefit to him for leaving the dog he is with. You may also need to watch to see if there are appropriate dogs in the park before you bring him in. Hope that helps. Your dog sounds fun!

      • Thank you so much for the feedback! Just yesterday I put him on leash and found it much easier to pull him away when he acted like that. It’s been so long since we did the obedience class with him that I think he just needs to go back to basics with that. He started responding better, and it was so much easier to pull him off. I will definitely start bringing some treats and try that as well. And yes, he is so much fun and such a good dog. This is only one instance where he needs work!

  16. Where I live there is a misconception that socialization is ensuring that your puppy HAS to play with every other dog in the vicinity.
    Not allowing a puppy to gently become aware of children lorries buses train stations umbrellas hats buggies textures scents old people ,in other words the sights and sounds that make up the world he is about to live in!
    So having ‘been socialized’ in a vet surgery or village hall, The puppy is thrown out into the world with one of two ideas imprinted in its brain, big dogs are scarey and beat me up, so I need to get out of here as fast as I can! OR, whoopee there is a dog on the horizon got to go and play with it.
    So the result is the same, no recall, because Mum is neither safe nor interesting

    • Susie, I agree. Socialization means the the dog is exposed to new people/places/things, it does NOT mean that the dog has to actually interact with them! If the dog wants to, and is clearly calm and happy, then fine. Otherwise, it may not be a positive experience, and can do more harm than good.

      Dogs don’t have to play with other dogs, or meet people up close and personal in order to benefit from exposure to them in the environment. You need to be able to read your dog, learn when they’re fearful or stressed, and never push to that point and beyond.

    • Such a great point, Susie. I do think many people think socialization means the dog has to play with every dog which was never the point, but I think it has been mis-translated that way.

  17. Excellent read. I am fed up with “socialization” simply being used as an excuse to force a dog to interact with other dogs–that is called “social interaction,” and not all dogs are cut out for it.

    Something that gets me, though, is that not all dogs take food treats or have little food motivation. As you noted, the important factor about socialization is that dogs come out with a positive experience, and for some of them, simply moving away is positive for them as a reward for remaining calm. Some dogs just want human interaction or attention. Using obedience training in conjunction with socialization can make things go so much quicker, since the dog already has a positive relationship with its handler, and there is a mutual respect and trust. Using this to gradually expose the dog to new situations, sounds, people, and environments can build up confidence in the dog as well as cement the obedience foundation that has been laid earlier.

  18. Hi,
    thanks for the article, very interesting.
    I have been lucky with my dog because he has never been scared as puppy when I introduced him to new environments.
    But this is a good word to spread around because I’ve read discussion and heard people talking about “throw the dog into the situation and he will get used”, and I am sure it’s not the right way to do!

  19. Thank you for this article. I have a 2+ year old lab mix. She is the sweetest dog. She behaves really well at the house with our kids, loves everyone she meets, is a great play pal at the dog park (and gets clues when to stay away from other dogs), and is always friendly when off leash.
    However, she has a really bad case of leash aggression whenever we encounter other dogs. No problem with people, bikes, cars, or even other animals that might run around. But, when there is another dog on or off leash while she is on the leash, she goes berserk!
    I am holding her short and try to keep her head up and distract her with food treats (she is VERY food motivated). She has gotten better and we have even managed to pass some dogs without her wanting to rip them to pieces. Most of the time though, she pulls and barks and lunches like a crazy beast.

    Do you have any advice for me?

    • Hi Frank, You are on the right track by trying to take treats and distract her. However, that training does take time and will only succeed if you can keep her “under threshold” which means you want to set her up so she can succeed. Usually that means there is a distance away from the other dog in which she can hold herself together. That’s the distance you need to stay until she gets better at focusing only on you and not the treats. once she has mastered that distance you would begin moving closer in tiny stages. But when she has a chance to practice the bad behavior (i.e. a dog comes to close and you didn’t see it in time, or you weren’t expecting it, etc), then it makes it harder for the training to work. So it can take some time to set up all the factors to help her. Hope that helps.

  20. I think also people need to take into consideration the fact that their dog may never, ever enjoy dog parks and people shouldn’t force dogs that don’t enjoy it to go to dog parks. I personally avoid them regardless because my dog isn’t going to play with dog that isn’t from his “pack” and I would never want to set him up for failure, etc. I personally do not like dog parks.

  21. A very interesting and informative article, as I am learning a lot from it. It tells me how much we/I do not know about dog behaviour. In my area where I live there are very few facilities for dog training, also here dog parks are “foreign” to this country, so the behaviour of humans and their dogs that one encounters is not always positive for your dog; and thus yourself. I have a Labrador – she is the first puppy that I have raised, myself. Our other dogs were adults when we got them. I have noticed that the training I & thus she received was poor. She is now nervous of other new dogs and especially excited dogs that are entering the park. This due to their owners not knowing any better, about the considerate way to enter the facility.
    We generally are some years behind in behaviourist knowledge in the south. (that is, South of Johannesburg, South Africa)
    Here you have helped me to learn more about my dog and myself. I wish that more people here were so open minded in our country.

  22. Thank you for a wonderful article. I’m curious if you could speak to the issue of touching puppies at a young age (even from birth), as a component (or not) of early socialization to humans. Is this still a recommended procedure, are there resources for what would constitute “good touching”, as opposed to inadvertently flooding, for example. I thought I heard that early touch, and lots of it over time, is critical, but then I thought I heard that method was being questioned. Any input would be appreciated.

    • Hi Gwen, I am not that familiar with the specifics, but I do think tactile touching of dogs at a very young age is healthy. Things like exposing them to different objects, smells, and surfaces can be very helpful as well.

  23. I have two senior dogs, an 11 year old Johnson Bulldog and a 10 year old English Bull Terrier. Both were rescues, the bulldog has been with me for 6 years and the bull terrier for 2. They get along famously together, and both adore people and actively seek hugs and cuddles. The bulldog has arthritis in her shoulders, and it seems to be getting worse, so rather than attempt to walk them I prefer to take them to the dog park.

    The bull terrier is very social with other dogs, but lately I am having a problem with the older dog. She readily accepts most dogs, but others – especially dogs larger than her and pugs – she does not like at all. I don’t know where her dislike of pugs came from, I have never seen her display this before. She has started growling and has even displayed aggression at times.

    I wonder if this possibly age-related, maybe because she is scared of her shoulders getting hurt by more boisterous dogs. I tend now to keep her lead on and sit with her so I can monitor the situation when other dogs come up to her, she seems a lot more comfortable that way and she is still able to see the people she so enjoys.

    • Hi Louisa, I would not be surprised if this wasn’t age and health related. It sounds like you are handling it well by monitoring the situation. She may need more space and not want to meet as many dogs as she ages, which is perfectly fine!

      • my 14yr old does the same thing. only with bigger dogs. she is very healthy and strong, but do think that because they are old, they have to show dominance right off the bat. I don’t know how to handle it when a new dog comes up and she does this.

        • With a 14 year old dog, I think I would just keep introductions very short and not make her meet every new dog….especially if they are bigger than her. She is obviously not comfortable with the greeting so I’m not sure I would make her do it. Hope that helps!

  24. i have a rescue dog that i have had for 8 weeks he lived with his owner for 8 years untill she passed away he was then sepperated from his brother and has been in kennels and foster befor he came to me and now very agressive to other dog and i can not work out why

  25. I love this article. As a fellow trainer myself, I find your points extremely valuable. I work at a Vet clinic as both a tech and a receptionist and I am constantly pointing this out to clients as they come in with a dog. I have a very hard time with people that have their dog on a retractable leash and just let him wander from dog to dog without asking the other owners for permission for a controlled meet and greet. Dogs are usually stressed at the vet anyhow. Add that to being protective of their owners and a rude new dog in your face and you’ve got a recipe for disaster! I always encourage the owners to come in even when they don’t have appointments for treats and pets, in hopes to build that positive association with the dreaded doctors office. Love your article, can you do one on proper meet and greets so that rude owners everywhere can learn something via paper instead of a nasty dog fight? I’d gladly print it out and set some copies around the clinic! 😀


  26. I have a 14yr old Sybrian Husky. she is very kind happy and gets along with other dogs and people. but when I have her on the leash, and a new dog comes over, or she pulls to see them, she will sometime nip at their neck. I think it is because she can’t get to the dogs back end. seems like if she can’t smell them, she goes to nip them. I have to them pull her away and the meet is over. now I am nervous when a new dog approaches and I think she can feel my nervousness. I don’t want her to nip and I try to not get them caught up together in the leashes. she is much better with young dogs or smaller dogs. the big dogs, she really gets excited and I think tries to show her dominance. do you have any suggestions??

    • You may want to have someone else handle the leash to see if this is different depending on who holds the leash. If she is 14 though, you probably aren’t going to change the behavior as much as you can just learn to manage it. It may not be important for her to meet every dog she sees.

  27. I have a six year old Heeler that I rescued three years ago. She was born deaf and is an amazing dog other than she will attack any dog she sees when out of the house. (Inside I have more control and she will “listen” if you correct her) But when she is out, she turns into the Tazmanian Devil when she sees anther dog. Since I am in my 60’s now, I am hesitant to walk her in case she gets loose. I have tried treats (totally ignored), holding her d0wn (not entirely successful), blocking her vision (yeah, right) and putting my hand over her muzzle since she likes to “scream” at the other dog. She has bitten me in an attempt to “encourage” me to let her go after the dog. This is her only behavioural problem. Any suggestions? I have not been able to find anyone who has experience training a deaf dog for this.

    • Hi Victoria, I’m sorry you are having so much trouble with that one area of your dog’s behavior. The secret to modifying any behavior is getting the dog in a situation where you can control the environment enough so that the dog can learn. Once your Heeler is in “tazmanian Devil” mode, you are not in training mode. All you can do at that point is react and get the dog out of the situation. Her brain is in a different place and no real training can take place. In order to actually train her to be less reactive you have to find the distance at which she can see another dog but not react to it. Then you give her tons and tons of tasty treats for not reacting and spend a lot of time at this distance. You want the dog to think, “when i see another dog, mom gives me treats” so that you get a response of looking at you. Then you slowly work closer to the other dog. This sounds easy but it can take months and months of work and it’s slow and steady progress. Sometimes you take 2 steps forward and three steps back. The challenge is finding a situation which allows you to control the environment. That’s why it can be helpful to find a trainer who can set up situations for you…otherwise you’ll keep running into dogs that are too close and your dog will continue to practice the Tazmanian Devil routine (and practice makes perfect as they say). I do not think you need a trainer who specializes in deaf dogs…you need one who is familiar with working with reactive dogs. I hope this helps.

  28. My dog loved to play with other dogs until he was accidentally hurt by a larger puppy. From that day on he started nipping, not hard not like he’s going to tear them up but he no longer just plays. He is 1 1/2 years old. The injury happened when he was about 6 months. So now, how can I train my dog to socialize when he is food crazy? This helps when I’m training for other things, but he, and other dogs, will tussle over food. So??? All the advice I’ve read uses treats to acclimate so I am stumped. I know this is an old article but any idea’s would be greatly appreciated.

  29. my dog’s a massive border collie mix – his mother was a petite purebred BC but heaven only knows who his father was, because he’s 65lbs and looks like a golden retriever wearing a black and white tuxedo.

    for him, i’ve found the best approach is to expose him to whatever it is and let him sort himself out. whenever i try to “help”, it usually makes the situation worse.

    so yeah, it meant getting the hairy eyeball from passers-by while he barked and snarled and darted around a ten-foot statue of a hiker in mid-stride holding a walking stick that suddenly materialized in the middle of our usual route but whatever. he hackled up, cowered down, fluttered his gums up over his teeth, did the wolf slink around the front and then then around the back, darted in for the heel of the raised foot (the foot was raised – it actually looks like she’s about to kick and i happened to be standing in the target zone), then stopped dead when he got close enough to sniff. his entire body smoothed out and relaxed, he sniffed, he peed on it, scratched grass at it, and now it doesn’t exist.

  30. Jeannie and I are new parents to a rescue German Shepherd- Border Collie dog we got about 3 weeks ago. Toby is just one year old and I believe was treated well by his other owners. We are fortunate that he sits, stays, lies down, comes on command. He obviously lacked some socializing during critical periods in this first year. He barks at people he feels uncomfortable with. We have made gains with the family he has met. Jeannie and I have made tremendous trust from him. Large men seem to make him very fearful and uncomfortable. We have had good luck with people who have come into our home. I have kept him on a leash and comfort him commanding him to lie down and petting him as the company gets seated. after he calms down, he gets a treat. We have the company talk with us and try to not concentrate on the dog. This seems to let him know there is no danger from the people there. Then after 5 – 10 minutes we have teh people, one at a time offer a treat sort as they continue to talk with us. Soon Toby’s leash is left on the floor and he is able to go to the person to get the treat. He will continue to sit in front of the people looking for treats. This becomes a good time for him and one he will look forward to. We are fortunate that he came with knowing many commands. obviously, there is a mutual love between us. We still have situations to work through, but articles like yours have been very beneficial to us. Thank you so much, Bud Merrill.

  31. My female American bulldog is incredibly friendly with humans. All humans. And she loves puppies. All puppies. She also likes submissive male dogs. Once they have shown their submissive nature to her. But she is bad with strange dogs in general. She is dominant, but she obeys me and stops being crabby when asked to. I have worked with a friend who brings a subby female dog for visits and after only 2, Lola was fine with her, to the point of bow playing and wanting to wrestle and run with her. My dog is also pretty good on non leash situations, dog parks etc. She seems to have a leash issue, and I am damned if I can find a way to stop it. I think I will take treats with me on our walks, and when she ignores another dog, she gets one.

    • I should point out that she is not horribly aggressive, and her reaction is proportionate to the behavior of the other dog. She walks past calm dogs with very little reaction. But she reacts to reactive dogs, and dogs of a certain size and color, and I am fairly certain that it would end badly were she to get at the other dog. She has been attacked by 2 smaller, nasty little beasts on 2 separate occasions, so it does not surprise me that she alerts when those types of dogs come into view. But I really want her to stop being so anxious and hyper on our walks.

  32. I have a 15 month old english bulldog, he loves all people, when i walk him if a dog gets close he starts barking and pulling at the leash he is very strong. my english bulldog lives with 2 other dogs a shitzu yorki mix and an italian greyhound they get along fine there he has no food aggressions the two little ones are in control of Henry the bulldog.I think he is learning in his private classes but the dog aggressions dont seem to get better yet

  33. Bonjour,

    Thank you for sharing this interessant thoughts about sozialization.
    I agree with you for the most part of it.

  34. I adopted 2 pups (brother and sister) at the age of 12 weeks old. When they first came home they had people around them at the house but, we had a horrible winter and didn’t get out much….. They are 6 months old now and we have been taking them to parks and town and around people but they are so scared. When someone comes into the house they bark and back away from them. I want them to be the friendliest dogs and I need some suggestions please.

  35. You ask if I know of other problems with socialisation – yes! I can think of one you haven’t covered (good precis by the way). It is about the other end of the spectrum – the confident puppy/dog. The one that doesn’t necessarily need socialisation, but because the owners have heard that socialising their puppy or dog is “good” they go ahead anyway, and perhaps the pup is in with the wrong crowd and learns bad behaviour from them, or the pup innately is badly behaved and gets to practice bullying behaviour that the owners view as only “being super friendly” or a “bit of rough play”, or, God forbid, “hilarious” – humping behaviour in particular. In my hood there seems to be quite a few dogs in this category.

  36. When my cousin’s kids were just learning how to walk and get around I was the one who supervise the boys around my Heidi. She was a miniature schnauzer and I looked for any signs that my girl was stressed and I redirected the boys if they pulled on her hair or did anything that I thought would cause Heidi to bite.
    And as long as I was around and there to supervise the boys they never got bit even once.

  37. My son in law owns an 8 yr old brindle staff. He is generally a very good dog, fantastic with babies, children and adults, responds well to reprimands, if he’s caught doing something like chewing a toy a finger snap and command to stop works almost instantly. However my son in law didn’t have him from a very young pup, I believe he was a few months old, and I don’t know why, but he didn’t succeed in socialising him to be totally happy around other dogs. For this reason as the dog got older he avoided taking him where there were other dogs running loose, choosing secluded quiet fields and woods instead. Unfortunately now they have moved to another area there are no places like this, which means the dog is stuck in a flat 24/7 with a quick walk around the block twice a day. Vets have said he’s too fat, so they cut his food down but my other daughter, wants to take him to the woods for proper exercise. She studied animal care at college and thinks that lack of exercise is the problem for weight gain since he was spayed for health reasons 2 years ago. The owner is not prepared to let the dog wear a muzzle, because he feels it indicates that the dog is aggressive to people which he isn’t and it leaves him defenceless should another dog attack him. My daughter has taken him out a few times and she said he seems to ignore small dogs but more wary of bigger dogs and today another staff began to approach, who was off its lead, with an owner oblivious to what his dog was doing, a mobile phone stuck to his ear. It took my daughter several attempts to get the owners attention to call his dog away, when the dog she was holding on a lead, began to growl. She was very worried when this happened as she also had two small children with her. Fortunately the other dog moved away and it didn’t escalate further. However it has now made her feel she cannot take the dog for the walks it desparately needs. Which upsets her as the dog loves running through the woods playing sticks and snuffling through leaves with the children. I was wondering if there is any chance that she could train this dog, not to get ruffled by other dogs that approach, or is he too old. And if so how to carry out the training. If not she won’t be able to take him out any more as the risk is too high especially as she also has to take care of a ten year old boy and a 4 and 5 year old on these walks, her being the only adult in attendance.

    • Hi Susan,
      There is some training your daughter could do,but i would work more on teaching the dog to come when called so he will return quickly and also to focus on her (rather than other dogs) when they are out. Even if he doesn’t love other dogs these two things could help. I also did an article on what to do if a loose dog approaches so that might helps as well. I would look for a trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods. You can search the trainer search at the association of professional dog trainers ( Hope that helps.

  38. Hi, I have a 12 yr old terrier x male that we got as a 2 yr old. He came from a family that had a Labrador but the terrier would stress out. My terrier now doesn’t seem to like big dogs and gets grumpy. I am finding when I go out my dog is getting upset so I would like to get a puppy Whippet for company for my dog. I would like some advice on how to go about this and if you think this is wise.
    Thank you

  39. I am trying to help a one year old Heeler is very scared of strangers. She is fine with people walking by but upset if they touch or pet her. She was rescued from being a totally outside dog since a pup left out with the goats and bunnies. She likes other dogs and cats and wants to play. It took me about 4 one hour sessions to become her friend. Taking her on a walk she walks on loose leash but walks tail tucked and ears down and hyper aware of noises. We can run and play together now. She will run to me and most times throw herself down on her back.Trying to help her get to a rescue that knows the breed and can help her better than I How can I help her build her confidence in the meantime? I only have her about one hour of the day. Otherwise she lives with an older woman.

    • Hi Karen, It sounds like you are doing a lot of good things to help your dog, but these issues do take time to resolve. I would recommend finding a trainer that might be able to work with you to help give you suggestions based on your specific dog. Also, any type of agility or training tricks, fit paws, etc can help a dog build confidence too so some ideas like that might help.

  40. I have a rescue dog that I’ve had almost a year shes 2 years old. Family members and I can talk sweetly to her sometimes to even pet her and she submissively urinates on the floor. Less frequent then it used to be but she still does it, she does need a trainer I believe but will that help or hinder these incidents? What can I do to stop the submissive urinating?

    • For submissive urination I would work on ignoring the dog completely when people greet her. Let her get used to them being around without anyone petting or talking to her. Often that will allow the dog to relax a bit and then have people greet her calmly once she has been with them for a few minutes.

  41. I have a male German Sheperd who will be 2 (calendar years) in December. We also have a Min Pin who is 15 (also calendar). We brought the Sheperd in when he was about 12 weeks old and he has grown with the Min Pin. We have also had him attend basic training, sit, heel and stay, nothing to hard yet. He also is neutered and has been going to doggie day care where he gets to socialize with other dogs. He has been going there about twice a week for the last year. I was recently told that he has become aggressive with some of the dogs there, male and female and with German Sheperds, Boxers and a Doberman also that I know of. He has never shown this side before. And now, when our Min Pin gets near his food or even some of his toys, he growls at her. I know he is very protective of my wife and I and is very playful with our grandchildren.
    Is there a way I can correct this before it becomes a big problem and is so how? I love our dogs and don’t want to have to lose them. I do know that our Min Pin is nearing her end, so we just make her comfortable.

    • Hi Israel, It’s not uncommon for dogs to “age out of” daycare. Sometimes as they get older they tend to what to play less. If they are less tolerant in their desire to play that sometimes can come out as more aggressive displays. You may want to cut back on his daycare attendance or stop it altogether to see if that might help. Regarding your other dog, if the MinPin stays away from your dog while he has a toy or food, this may not become an issue. However, if your minpin is challenge your german shepherd when the shepherd growls then it could escalate into a more serious altercation. if that is the situation, i would recommend working with a positive trainer in your area. You might also check out the book called ‘Mine’ by Jean Donaldson. hope that helps.

  42. I have a 3 1/2 year old miniature shar pei who is scared of everything!! She is not aggressive at all. She has suffered from 2 dog attacks at the dog park both requiring stitches and the second attack major surgery.
    For both of these attacks she did not bark or bite back. She didn’t even show her teeth.
    She will not let any unfamiliar human near her. She won’t allow any unfamiliar human to pet her/touch her. She immediately goes into hiding behind me and lowering her ears and head. It breaks my heart. She is just happy being a scared homebody.
    Any advice would be great!

    • Hi Rhonda, I don’t see any reason to take your dog to the dog park if she doesn’t enjoy it. I would take her to places that she can enjoy or help her learn to relax in places where you know she has to go (like the veterinarian or groomer). Most dogs don’t need to go to the dog park at all. For helping to get her to relax at home or at the veterinarian, I would work with a positive trainer to do desensitization techniques.

  43. I’ve been raising guide dog puppies for over 20 years. Confidence building is a very important part of our process. We expose our pups to various people in various settings at their pace, as they are ready, using treats and praise.

    • I agree, Charlene. Confidence is very important and socialization done right will help with that! As you said…letting the dog set the pace is important too!

  44. I have a Lab cross with Newfoundlander.Hope is her name. I adopted her from the Humane Society. She’s very smart but Absolutely WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME when she sees another dog😔 she bolts and has jumped fences to join them.

    • Hi Bonnie, This is definitely an issue that will require some individual work and training with your new dog. Generally you have to build up to getting a dog to listen around distractions. i would start with some basic training either in group classes or in private lessons to build a stronger relationship with you and your dog. Then you can start to add distractions (like another dog nearby). In the meantime i would manage the behavior by using a leash when she goes outside. The other alternative would be to make your fence higher. 🙂

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