Socialization: The Proper Way

The Environment, Meeting People & Dogs

MUST READ: Denise Fenzi's Puppy Socialization blog post:

IMPORTANT: Here is a great checklist that will help keep you on track with your socialization goals. SOCIALIZATION CHECKLIST

Example of socializing your puppy in a public place:

Playlist: Fells Point Puppy Excursion

Puppy Visits Tractor Supply

Too often we receive calls from puppy owners who had the best intentions, possibly from receiving poor advice from pet 'professionals', that encourage improper socialization.

What does being properly socialized mean? It essentially means being able to keep oneself composed in different environments. We do this by systematically exposing them to the world around them. What do I mean by that? It means to provide your puppy with novel experiences in such a way that is not overwhelming and is perceived as a positive experience or at least neutral. It also means that when something occurs that cause our puppy to be fearful or overly aroused in any way, we also take the time to create a more level headed response from the puppy. Usually that involves creating more space between the dog and the stimulus.

Let's think about this...

The Environment

The world is an exciting place, but it's important that our dog learns to keep his composure around a lot of activity. Teaching your dog not to default to the environment starts when they are babies. We want their attention to be focused on YOU! Up until the puppy is about 11 weeks old, we have 'social attraction' on our side. The puppy will follow us around, and rarely stray to far. We always reward the puppy for coming to use voluntarily. Around 12 weeks or so they become more independent thinkers, and other things become more interesting than we are. This is where more guidance form us comes into play via like the leash, body language and incentives (treats, toys, praise) to help them along (careful not to bribe though!)

For example: If you are in your neighborhood and children are riding bikes past you, you can get your puppy's attention (Hey puppy puppy! in a cheerful voice) and when they look at you encourage them to come to you (move backwards, reel in the leash if needed), wait for them to look at you and then reward them for that attention. careful not to reward for the lack of attention. If they move to you but have their eyes elsewhere (instead of on you) we haven't actually gotten their attention. Repeat the process, or simply walk the opposite way without saying a word (oppose the dog). The pup will have no choice but to follow, and when they catch up, and they look at you, let them know that they're a good dog.

If you've already conditioned a marker (clicker or the word 'Yes') then you should mark when the puppy connects their attention to you. Click for Connection.

Click for Connection.png



Meeting People

MUST READ: A Sense of Entitlement

We certainly want our puppy to enjoy people and be comfortable with all walks of life. So getting out to meet new people is important. BUT we do not want their expectations to be that all people are going to give them attention, treats, etc. It is MORE important that your puppy learns to be respectful around people then gets to meet them. So do not allow people to interact with your puppy, rather expose your puppy to multiple types of people in different settings, where they can observe without being the center of attention. 

*DO expose your puppy to a multitude of people of all walks of life, but do not allow direct interaction unless you can control the situation to ensure a positive outcome. 

*We want our puppies to respond calmly when seeing, passing, interacting with people. We do not want our puppies aroused, whether that be from excitement or fear. 

If we allow our dogs to be greeted inappropriately by strangers who allow the (currently small) cute puppy to jump on them, lick them incessantly, nibble on their hands, bark and give them pets, then what we're actually doing is teaching our puppy that those behaviors are desired. Which also means that those behaviors will be repeated. Assuming they enjoy people then we are also encouraging over-arousal and inappropriate behaviors that your dog will not grow out of, but rather grow into.

On the other hand, if your dog is hesitant to interact with people and they are allowed to interact with her inappropriately, then we are setting the stage for our puppy to grow into an adult that is fearful of people. Neither of which is okay, and in both cases your dog will end up making 'bad' decisions which could put them or someone else in a compromising position. 

So in order to teach our puppy how to be respectful with people we want to make sure to do a few things:

GREETING BEHAVIOR: Door Greeting, Stranger Greeting, Petting/not petting



DOs & DON'Ts OF INTERACTION (inappropriate human body language)

  • Your puppy will be on leash so you can control his behavior. Hold the leash down low by the clasp so you're able to prevent him from jumping/lunging/etc., while he's learning proper behavior.
  • If someone wants to greet your puppy it's your job to inform them of the rules:
    • If your puppy is comfortable meeting people follow the list below.
  1. The person must follow the rules! If they refuse then they should not be allowed to interact with your dog. Your dog is not public property!
  2. Place your puppy in a sit and help them stay in that position by holding the leash near the clasp so you have better control and can prevent her doing things that you don't want.
  3. Tell the person that they can approach him confidently, without making eye contact or speaking to the dog (which can cause arousal), their hands should be to their side (not in pockets or behind back - that adds an element of surprise).
  4. When the dog gets excited the person must turn their back to the dog and take a couple steps away.  When the dog regains his composure you can tell them to approach again.
  5. Once they are in close proximity to the puppy, and the puppy is calm, they can extend one hand, palm down, near the chin. They should leave their hand in that fixed position.
  6. It's your job to keep the puppy from making physical contact with the person (licking, pawing, mouthing, etc). We can use 'Leave It', 'Out' or 'Off' to help the dog through this exercise.
  7. Once the puppy ignores the hand the person can pet him in the following sequence: Under the chin > side of the head > top of the head. Keep it short and sweet to avoid arousal.
  8. If/when the puppy becomes aroused again during the petting, the person should remove their hand and step away. 
  9. Rinse and repeat until puppy can get it right!
  • If your puppy is NOT comfortable meeting people follow the list below.
    • Ask the person to completely ignore your looking, talking, or touching. No exceptions.
    • IF your puppy shows interest in the person in a positive way (sniffing, polite forward movement) then they can do the following:
      1. Toss a treat AWAY from them. This rewards the puppy two ways for showing positive interest:
        1. Allowing him to move away, releasing the social pressure, is the primary reward
        2. The food is the secondary reward
        3. Praise from the owner is the tertiary reward
      2. Once the puppy is willingly showing positive interest and moving politely towards the person, they can toss treats in front of them while backing away. This will engage more positive movement.
      3. Once the puppy is moving towards the treat dispensing person with willingness the person can offer treats in the palm of their hand.
      4. They should NEVER reach out to pet them, or lean over them.

VIDEO: Making First Contact With A Doubtful Dog

VIDEO: Greeting Behavior 1 - Lucky at LK9

VIDEO: Greeting Behavior 2 - Lucky at LK9 (incl physical handling ie vet visit)


Meeting Dogs

We certainly want our puppy to be comfortable with other dogs. So opportunities to interact with other dogs is important, but...

Like people, dogs are all individuals and they each have their own personality. And personality conflicts exist in dogs just like they do in humans...we don't all get along. However, regardless of our personality conflicts, we still need to be respectful of each other, so we need to teach our puppy what is acceptable and what is not. 

So in order to teach our puppy how to be respectful with other dogs we want to make sure to do a few things:

  • They interact predominately with stable adult dogs...good role models, so to speak, are the best teachers
  • They interact with dogs that you know personally and trust
  • Allow interaction between dogs once they are both calm around each other
  • Don't let dogs interact while leashes are held (tight leashes cause conflict!)
  • Be sure that you are getting your puppy out and about in the same vicinity as other dogs but without any interaction. They should not grow up assuming that every dog is their friend, because not every dog will want to be!

But how do we do that properly? 

  • Make sure all interactions are controlled so that you can create a positive experience
  • Set up dates in an enclosed yard with friends who have healthy, vaccinated and socially stable dogs who you can trust around your puppy
  • Wait, at a distance where the dogs cannot reach each other, while on leash, until the dogs are calm and basically bored of each other...the excitement has worn off. You can safely tether the dogs in eyesight of each other to something sturdy and safe, like a fence post, and just let the dogs learn to calm down on their own without intervening (don't talk, look or touch). 
  • Once calm, release the dogs calmly and silently so as not to escalate the calm behavior they just worked so hard to accomplish. They should be off leash or with leashes dragging. Do not create restriction by holding the leash.
  • Interrupt play when they become too aroused either vocally, clapping your hands, using a water spray bottle, or something else that interrupts the behavior effectively and safely.
  • You can separate the dogs and repeat the earlier steps of waiting for calm before rewarding with play.
  • Please keep in mind that understanding canine body language takes practice and it is best to do socialization sessions with other dogs with a professional present.
  • Under no circumstances should you bring your puppy to a dog park.
  • SUPERVISION is required at all times! When you can't supervise, crate your puppy.