I'm going to nag on you all this morning; socializing.............again.  Throughout my years of training and being around dogs in general I have to say that the biggest problem with dog owners is the lack of socializing that they offer their dogs.  So many problems arise from a lack of socializing; some that can be undone, others not. It is funny that many behaviors that dogs exhibit from a lack of socialization are often mistaken as abuse. I hear the "abuse" accusation so much from rescue folks and people in general.  A lack of socialization can be catastrophic.

When I see dogs who are fearful, perhaps aggressive or freaked out by life in general it makes me really sad.  Many of those dogs would have been well adjusted dogs given some early socializing.  Because all dogs are different, each individual will deal with socializing in their own way.  Some need a ton while others just need one introduction to everything and their good to go.  I do feel that the more intensely intelligent a dog is the more socializing they will need.  Some dogs just sail through life not really noticing much of anything and they are perfectly happy.

Having just been through the puppy stage, I am reminded of just how important it is.  You need to socialize and you need to get it done early.  There is a rule of thumb that the best and most effective socializing is done before a dog is 16 weeks old.  Then the door shuts and any work done after that age is much more difficult.  I agree, the earlier you do it the better; but, I feel that the window closes slowly and that you can get a great deal done in before 6 months of age.  That said, it is important to start before 16 weeks of age.  Basically you should start as soon as you get your puppy, preferably 8-10 weeks of age.

Of course this is all made much easier if you got your puppy from someone who has done a great deal of work with the puppies.  Fosters or breeders can do a whole lot of socializing while the puppies are with them.  It doesn't take much to give puppies a couple of new experiences every day.  But some fosters and breeders do not take the time.  If the puppies remain in their "box" which is an all too familiar surrounding until they go to there new home they will be lacking.

They should be outside, introduced to new things, water, boxes, dirt, sand and obstacles.  Lots of people should visit, young and old alike.  It is very obvious when a breeder or foster has done their job correctly, the puppies are so much more well adjusted.  Seeing a puppy that is thrown into society with no prior socializing is a sad sight.  They seem to be shell shocked by every movement, new person, dog or object.  Often when this happens an owner opts to keep them at home to protect them from the scary stuff.  This is when it goes very wrong.

I know many people who never take their dogs anywhere because they can't deal.  They were not socialized when they were young so they have no clue how to act in public.  They become an unpredictable dog, dangerous to themselves or others.  SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE.  I cannot preach this enough.  All the training can wait, socializing cannot.

When I started socializing Elsa it was apparent that she already had a good start.  The day she arrived at our house she strut around the backyard like she owned the place.  She had not been fazed by the trip in the plane or meeting the gang at our house.  It was the day after that we started on getting her out.  We hit Starbucks and the frozen yogurt place.  She stayed on my lap and met everyone that would meet her.  I got her into puppy classes a couple of weeks later where she met everything from a tiny Papillon to an adult Great Dane.  She met and loved all the trainers there and the feeling was obviously mutual.  We hit the strip malls, visited a bowling alley and worked on going through automatic doors.

Our cross country road trip (PBJ and me) was great for her.  She slept in a different hotel room every night, met lots of different folks and was brought to a new State, house and life.  There we were very lucky to have an off leash beach very close to so that she could socialize with other dogs.  All of these things were so good for her to deal with at such a young age.  But even at 13 months old we are still socializing.  For me anything that she has not seen or done before is a lesson.  She is one of those intensely intelligent dogs who is very aware of everything around her.  There is no trying to swoosh by things unnoticed with this girl so we are constantly experiencing.

Basically you want to introduce your dog to as many different things as you can.  You should focus on important things that might arise in your life first.  Will you be doing a lot of boating?  Then get out in the boat early.  Will you be visiting shopping malls with your pooch?  Get out and go shopping.  Introduce them to strollers, wheel chairs, kids running with huge back packs on, screaming kids, barking dogs, people who stare, dark buildings, loud streets, whizzing name it.  Having a girl with high drive I focused on street walking so that she learned right off that cars are nothing, especially not for chasing.  So you are doing all of this plus making sure that it is all positive.  Avoiding any negative things as much as possible, a negative experience can do a lot of damage.  (More on that in a later blog.)

If you don't have time for anything else in the beginning, SOCIALIZE.  You cannot get this extremely important time back and once that door shuts it makes the job much more difficult.  If it seems like a tough job in the beginning I can guarantee to you that it only gets harder if you wait.

                             SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE.  


  1. Any hints on socializing an older dog. We have a 1 year old rescue who is very fearful. I've found that introdcuing him to new people and situations on a leash helps but he is still really scared.
    Thanks Beth

  2. Beth; I'd recommend taking him out with a ton of delicious treats and not actually meeting anyone or other dogs. Just work at a distance until you see him starting to relax. Give tons of treats and calm, chill and happy talk. When he starts to relax then get a bit closer while giving tons of treats. Take baby steps, this is always the best way to achieve success.

  3. Thanks Sherri,

    Sounds like a good plan. We will give it a try.


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