5 Socialization Mistakes That Could Screw Up Your Dog

My dog Ace is a laid-back, well-socialized guy. I didn’t train him to be this way. It’s just how he is. I took him many places after I adopted him, but he was already a year old by then. 

Because Ace was born on a farm and then lived in a small farming town for a year, he must’ve been around plenty of animals, noises and different people. Genetics are also a factor, of course. (2018 update: Ace has passed away.)

Regardless, he’s not fazed by anything, which is really convenient.

I believe in ongoing socialization for all dogs – taking them out as much as possible to areas where they can be successful.

That’s different for every dog, obviously.

Visiting a dog friendly café is no big deal to Ace. It would’ve been a bit much for my previous dog. Just walking around the neighborhood is challenging enough for others.

You want to challenge your dog a little, but not too much.

Keeping this in mind, the following are some socialization mistakes to avoid. I can be very opinionated, so please feel free to leave a comment and let me know your own ideas.

5 puppy and dog socialization mistakes to avoid

Dog socialization mistakes

1. Forcing the dog into stressful or scary situations is not ‘socializing’ him

Socialization should be about introducing the dog to something new in a positive way.

We hear about the importance of bringing our dogs to new areas, so we think of “big picture” events when really we should be focusing on less-exciting examples.

New dog owners are told to socialize their dogs around other dogs, so they might think it’s a good idea to visit the dog park, for example.

Obviously you wouldn’t want to take a dog with no dog-park experience and throw him into a fenced area with 25 other dogs on a lively Saturday afternoon. This would set most dogs up for failure, right? The dog may be overwhelmed at best. More than likely, he could act out aggressively.

See my post: Rules at the dog park.

But, a walk with one other dog followed by a little off-leash play? This is a perfect way for many dogs to socialize until they get more comfortable.

Another example: Bringing a puppy to a busy, noisy event like watching a marathon could be too scary. But a walk where you know you’ll be exposed to a small crowd – like walking by a kid’s soccer game – might be perfect. It’s less chaotic, and you can always move away calmly.

I recommend you wear a dog treat bag around your waist when out and about with your dog. That way you can always have quick access to high-valued treats to reward your dog for checking out something new. This keeps new experiences fun and positive for your dog.

Dog treat bag

2. Not investing in training

One of my favorite writers, Jon Katz, wrote that dog owners will often spend hundreds of dollars buying an exotic purebred or designer dog, but then they won’t spend a dollar on training that dog.

People will also pay $400 to adopt a “rescue dog,” but are most of them willing to spend money on training? Probably not.

I’m not saying you have to invest a bunch of money into dog training, but you do need to invest your time. My favorite way to train my dog is to do it myself. I usually train my dog on walks around the neighborhood.

Still, I do find group obedience classes valuable, even to those who “know everything” about training a dog. Classes are an easy way to work with your dog around other dogs. There are few scenarios in the “real world” that allow you to do this in a controlled way.

I know training classes can get expensive, but if you can swing even one six-week session of weekly classes per year, it is well worth it. They’re not for all dogs, of course. Hiring a private trainer for one-on-one instruction can also be very helpful.

If you’re interested, I even wrote a 184-page dog training ebook that goes over 50 of the most common dog training problems. Check it out here.

Dog training ebook

3. Not having an exit plan when trying to socialize your dog

Some situations are just too stressful for certain dogs, and it’s up to the owner to always have a plan for what to do if it’s not going well. This is true no matter how well socialized the dog is.

Sometimes we humans set these unrealistic goals and expectations for our dogs. Maybe someone decides to take his dog to a street fair, for example, because he’s seen other people walking their calm, easygoing dogs through the fair in the past.

Dog socialization mistakes to avoid

This is fine, but if it’s not going well and the dog is lunging and barking at people or so scared that his tail is tucked between his legs, you need to be ready to walk away or get in the car and go home.

As a less extreme example, I always have the goal of taking Ace to coffee shops on a regular, flat collar (vs. a training collar). Sometimes this goes OK, but usually it’s an unrealistic expectation and he pulls too much. As a backup, I always bring his Gentle Leader along in my bag so I have it just in case. Another good option is a martingale collar.

See my post: Easy socialization tips for dogs and puppies

4. ‘Correcting’ a fearful dog

It’s only natural for dog owners to want to tell a dog “no” or to jerk on the leash when the dog is barking or growling out of fear. I’ve done this plenty of times. It’s almost like it’s a way to acknowledge the other person. Like, a way to signal, “I’m sorry about my dog. I disapprove of the behavior. See? I’m telling him no.” At least that is the case for me.

Some will warn that correcting a fearful dog will make the dog more fearful because he will associate the “pain” with the other dog. What I find is that it simply adds unnecessary tension, which might add more fuel to your dog’s “outbursts.” Either way, correcting him is unlikely to help him get over his fears.

When I’m working with fearful, reactive dogs, I like to define the point at which the dog tends to react. Maybe he has no reaction when another dog is 40 feet away but starts to breathe heavily when the dog is 30 feet away and then really starts to lose it within 20 feet. (There are other variables, besides distance, of course.)

With this example, I would start working with the dog on calming commands (sit, watch me) using highly valued treats from a distance of about 30 feet from other dogs whenever possible. The goal would be to gradually change his response to other dogs over time.

A professional trainer would be able to help you go over a specific training plan for your dog if you need it.

See my post: Can you “reward” a dog’s fear?

5 common dog socialization mistakes and how to avoid them #dogtraining #mutts #labmix #puppytraining

5. Forgetting the little things, like walking in new areas

One of the easiest ways to socialize a dog is to simply take him for a walk every day. I know we come up with all sorts of excuses not to walk our dogs, but it really is such a simple and valuable way to provide daily socialization. You can even have your dog on a long 15- or 30-foot leash to give him more freedom to sniff explore new things at his own pace.

Dogs are exposed to so many new people, dogs, sights, sounds and smells on a walk. So if you want to expose your dog to something new, simply walk him down a different street than he’s used to or even walk him at a different time of day.

I know you all work very hard to socialize your own dogs.

What are some dog socialization ideas you would add to the list?

Let me know in the comments!

84 thoughts on “5 Socialization Mistakes That Could Screw Up Your Dog”

  1. I really like the exit plan tip. It’s not something we think about often, but it’s so helpful to have it worked out in advance so that you can react quickly and in the best way for your dog if necessary. Baxter and I went to a local running race this summer. He was comfortable if a little excited at first, but was mostly bored and laid down while we waited for my sister to finish her race. After it was over there was a crowd around the finish line and we were mixed in with everyone. He was still fine. However, I wasn’t paying close enough attention and a man came up and started petting Baxter. At first, it was okay (and normally it would be because Baxter loves meeting new people), but then Baxter started to feel crowded and his lip started to curl to let me and the man know that. I didn’t want to hurt the man’s feelings, so I tried to get his attention on me and engage him in conversation without saying stop petting my dog. However, instead of waiting for him to go on his way, I wish I’d said, “My dog’s feeling a little crowded. I’m going to take him for a little walk now.” If I’d thought things through ahead of time, I would have had a better exit plan that would have made my dog feel better about the whole situation.

        1. Whenever someone asks if they can pet my dogs, I usually say “I am sorry they do not do well with strangers” but it always seems to bring on a look from the other person that I have done something wrong because my dog does not want to be petted. But I don’t care because it is my job to protect my dogs and not put them in circumstances they don’t like. I figure it is just like I would not put my kids into situations they do not like. And some people will say you cannot compare kids and dogs but raising dogs is just like raising kids-and I can say I have the experience because I have raised lots of dogs and two kids.

          1. I guess I disagree. Snapping or growling in any dog to people is not acceptable. I think it is very important to keep dogs very well socialized. I have a service dog and unless I am busy I almost always allow people to pet my dog if they ask first, especially children. First it is very important to teach children how to before petting a strange dog and how to approach a dog they do not know (closed hand so the dog can sniff). Secondly, letting my dog know all strangers are welcome allows them to be more accepting of odd situations and very importantly they are not protective of me by growling or snapping.My dog has also done therapy work with children, abused women and children, the elderly and college students. This has made her very stable, if in doubt she looks to me for reassurance and direction.

          2. It depends on the dog. Our dogs are a rustic ancient breed. (Their bones have been found in Neanderthal man caves in France). They will put their paws up on someone, smell them, and decide if they want further interaction with the person, while the person ignores them and talks to one of us. Children and a lot of adults generally are not patient enough for that kind of experience.
            Hands suddenly reaching at their faces or a big person suddenly bending down or someone patting too vigorously is scary for them. Think of someone suddenly reaching at your face or trying to pat your head. You are going to duck or cringe away. I used to try to tell people to just run their hand down my dogs side or back, but they always try to pat them on the head anyway.
            I put my dogs behind me and say please do not touch my dog.
            It’s hard because we always had retrievers in the past and most of our friends still have retrievers. But I have to show my dogs I have their backs and I will protect them.
            Of course it doesn’t help that we have cute little fluffy dogs that look like Benji. Look up Berger de Pyrénées.

          3. You are correct in protecting your dogs, you make the best choices. However generalizations are dangerous and most dogs need extensive socialization their entire lives. Your dogs appear to be atypical instead of typical and it is important that most people that read blogs understand that they are responsible for their dogs behavior in public, toy, small, medium or large dog owners. My dog is a Bouvier des Flandres and my vet thought I was nuts getting that breed as a service dog. He has changed his mind as he has seen that steady and constant training has my dog exhibiting excellent behavior in public. She was a food guarder and very protective of me as a puppy and had also snapped at other dogs coming near me. This is guarding behavior and I have not trained it out of her, rather I have taught her to look to me for direction. Your dogs are trainable too but it takes a lot of time and patience.

  2. I like these tips!

    I think a lot of it boils does to understanding the difference between whether dogs are allowed to be somewhere vs. whether your specific dog SHOULD be there. It’s also the difference between whether you would like your dog to be there with you vs. whether your dog actually likes being there. Sometimes the dogs who have the most obvious reactions and problems have an easier time – because we know they can’t be somewhere, so we don’t take them. They bark, lunge or make it impossible for anyone to tolerate their presence. Meanwhile, dogs who take the stress in without outwardly reacting too poorly are brought from place to place they don’t want to be, simply because they can “handle it.”

    I have been at crowded festivals or events that permitted dogs, and the majority of the dogs I see are not actually relaxed and comfortable being there.

    The other big socialization issue I still hear and see too often is not getting puppies exposed to enough stimuli early enough under the concern of them not being fully vaccinated. Because there has been such a stark change in thinking – the realization that undersocialization is far more damaging to dogs than the generalized threat of illness – many people think they are doing the right thing by keeping their dog away from all public spaces, dogs, etc. (and some vets still encourage this~) Parvo and lepto and other illnsesses are serious, but there are definitely ways to balance risks in a way that lets puppies experience more of the world during their critical development period while minimizing the likelihood they will get sick.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, that is one of the issues I hear about quite often as well – people who are so scared to take their puppies out due to the potential threat of illnesses. I get quite a few emails about that, and the people are often using potty pads and not even taking the dog onto the grass outside. Can you imagine?

      So, not only are they not socializing the puppies, but they’re not getting much exercise either. I haven’t had a puppy in a long time, but I never would’ve thought to keep the pup at home and isolated. Seems like that’s setting the pup up for a lot of behavioral issues.

      1. Hi, my dog is older now, but as a puppy we were definitely warned about those risks and not to take her anywhere that wasn’t properly controlled for those risks (ie keep her at home, backyard is fine but no walks, no parks, no dogs that you aren’t 100% sure are completely vaccinated). We did take her to puppy training at the vet, but as an adult dog, she is definitely not as socialised as I’d like, and barks/growls at strange adults in the house, even after we’ve greeted them, and she’s afraid of strange people and other animals who get too close. I’m currently about to embark on a new journey with a new dog that I’ll be training as an assistance dog for myself, so it’ll be even more important that socialisation is done properly. How would you recommend balancing those risks of illness with the importance of early socialisation? (Also, is it possible to socialise an older dog? I’d love to help my older dog feel more comfortable in new situations, but she’s so fearful even in less extreme cases, like one-on-one. Is it just too late, or can we still do something about it?) Sorry if this is all stuff that’s covered elsewhere, I just stumbled across this article and haven’t had a look at the rest of the website yet, so feel free just to point me to any articles that’ve already addressed my questions without writing it all out again. Thanks!

        1. I’m a dog walker & have looked after several pups. Even before they’d had their full vaccinations, I used to take them out (with owner & vets consent) wrapped up in a blanket to contain the wriggles and facing forwards against my chest, as you would a human baby. They quickly learnt they weren’t going to get down & were usually so open mouthed with delight at the new scenes they stayed still. I’d walk them round showing them the park & various walkways & we’d stop & say hello to anyone we passed including their dogs from the safe distance no touching allowed. (Disclaimer obv not with a Great Dane pup or similar !)
          It meant when they had had their full vac course, the great outside was not so scary & we could explore the same familiar areas while lead training.

        2. I’d be curious also to see if it’s possible to get an older dog socialized. We are wanting to get a second dog so he has a buddy and more then anything want it to work out with no issues.

          1. I have fostered and raised quite a few dogs in my day. (30+) In socializing I have found that it is very difficult to get a ‘senior’ dog to become ‘buddies’ with a same size, boisterous puppy. (especially one that just wants to jump on them and play all day). Seniors tend to bond better with a dog that is more laid back and quiet. If you are looking to get your dog a buddy then gravitate toward a second dog that is of similar personality. An older dog (2+ yrs) tends to be a better choice. There are fabulous, grown-up rescues out there. Take you time and look for a dog that fits with both you and your existing dog’s. You both have to live with your choice.

    2. I think people are talking about dogs that have a happy, loving history. I have had several adult dogs that have been rescued from horrific situations. These dogs have issues that are so ingrained that you have to realize they have been traumatized and not put them in a situation which will get them into trouble. My dog has horrible leash aggression when people approach him on a walk. I have worked with several trainers that thought this was an easy fix, but it looks like it is something we will always have to deal with. I find when people want to pet him when walking saying “he is a rescue and he will bite” is enough to get the message across and people are not offended. A bright orange vest he wears that says “IN TRAINING-DO NOT APPROACH” also helps people to see from a distance not to ask to pet him. In our house and yard he has no aggression and loves attention from everyone. Rescues have some unique issues and you must be prepared to deal with them if you adopt one. Unfortunately, not all rescues can be fixed given their history.

    3. I so agree with Aly, I also have a service dog and also allow people to pet her if they ask first unless I am in a rush. My Sophie loves people, specially kids, and for her saying go say hi is my way to reward her,
      She does fine in crowds, fact of the matter pre Sophie I had come to avoid crowds at all cost.
      The hard part sometimes is getting her to wait for me to give her prompt.

      I do wish I could get her to chill out when a larger dog wants to say hi, I do use a flexi most of the time so if a large dog comes up she can back off. Obviously I would keep her near me if the other dog has questionable body language.

  3. Really great advice Lindsay! I can’t help but be reminded of when my uncle threw his dog into a lake to teach it to swim. The poor thing quickly developed a fear of water! Similarly, socialization needs to happen gently and slowly.

    I also can relate to what you say about correcting a fearful dog. It can be hard when the owners clearly expect you to chastise your dog, but ultimately you need to do what is best for you and your dog.

  4. I agree with all of those. If I ever have a puppy I’m going to invest in socialization class for sure. It’s hard to have her meet all sorts of people consistently where we live (in the middle of nowhere) and the socialization she received is invaluable.

    Definitely need to have an exit plan. I always say to myself “not all battles are worth fighting” if we’re about to come up to some off leash dogs or something really distracting. It’s not worth the risk. Even if we get through it incident free I know I won’t be able to control my dog and my stress will effect how I handle the situation.

  5. Totally agree with your points. My one true mistake I feel I made when Kaya & Norman were young was taking them to the dog park. We had so many bad experiences but naively thought it was worth it for the socialization. I should have joined a puppy social or found individual owners to get together with. I don’t think they have any lasting ill effects but I am mortified looking back on the situations I put them in.

    I freak out when I see dogs acting out or fearful at cafes and restaurants. I feel so bad for the dog and the people seem to ignore them or laugh at it:( I realize that Kaya gets bored and antsy easily so there are places I only bring Norman.

  6. I can totally relate to your fourth point of correcting a fearful dog. I would love to use only positive reinforcement to get our pup, Ace, to socialize with other dogs on a calm level. It’s just so difficult because really the only dogs we see on walks are yard dogs that bark at him constantly. I fear asking someone to use their dog to train our dog. Do you suggest still using the prong collar while using the treats, just for his and other dogs safety? He thrashes on the gentle leader, hates wearing it, and we have no control with a harness.

      1. I would not recommend a prong collar. I’ve had one come completely apart twice when my dog lunged at another dog. They are not reliable. The choke collar sounds mean but it’s actually much safer if you don’t want your dog to get loose from you in a bad situation.

        1. Use the prong but have a nylon slip collar on the dog & connected to the leash also as a backup. If the prong breaks, you still have ahold of your dog.

          1. Why are we promoting a prong collar? There are better tools and methods. A front-clip harness works well for my dogs. Or even a martingale collar if fitted properly. There were other comments here stating not to punish your dog for being fearful or aggressive. You are basically punishing your dog by using a prong collar since you are inflicting pain (a negative response).

  7. Socialization is a big part of working with our guide dog puppies. We take our puppies just about everywhere, but having an exit plan might be one of the most important things to think about. Any time I take my puppy on an outing I’m always thinking about my puppy first. Is she having a positive experience or is this too stressful for her? You should always be prepared to leave an outing if it becomes to stressful for your puppy.

    1. I have trained a couple of service dogs and as young puppies I send out an invitation for neighbors to stop by for a quick visit, shoes removed and hands washed for visit of 5 minutes or so. My current dog met 30 new faces the first 3 days she was with me, just keep the visits short and positive. Once completely vaccinated we go to dog friendly places like Gander Mountain to get used to automatic doors, Home Depot and Lowes (stay well away from fertilizers, smell is overwhelming) public events/ outdoor concerts, small town parades (you can stand on the edge and quickly retreat) even fireworks (I sit in the back of my SUV so I can close and go if it becomes too much) My Bouvier loves fireworks having gone to her first one at 6 months of age. Go where there are places with obstacles like floor grates, sprinklers, you get the idea. Always start small, use positive reinforcement and never push a dog into something new. Even at 9 years of age my Bouvier will occasionally get spooked. She knows to look to me if she is unsure and trusts me if I tell her it is okay. I just let her overcome her caution at her own pace, sometimes it can take a couple of minutes. One I can think of was open metal stairs on a boat car ferry. It took her 5 minutes or so before she decided they were okay and she finally went up them. We repeated the up and down 4 times over a 3 hour period. I was not looking to stress her, just reinforce there was nothing to worry about. She was also certified therapy dog for years and the tests given by TDI are excellent to test challenging situations.

  8. I am guilty of the 2nd one fur sure. I’ve considered a dog trainer that specializes in leash reactive behavior. One excuse I’ve made is I don’t want to sort through the so-called trainers to find the one I want. Another excuse I use is that I can train Pierson myself. I have, in fact, made progress with him. He still needs some work and it certainly wouldn’t hurt if I could find the right trainer. What can I say, I’m still hedging.

    1. I have raised two rotties from puppies, and I trained both of the dogs myself. However, I recenlty adoted a 2 year old male rottie, who is an alpha dog, and despite having previously trained two other rotties, I am not ashamed to say, that my teenage boy needs a professional trainer. He is a sweet boy, but he likes to control things, and at times challenges me. As much as I hate to come up off of the money, I love my boy, and would rather invest in some training than having to pay out for a law suit.

    2. I have a four year old Pit that I am socializing by taking walks and seems to love women and children(especially loves babies) but barks And acts aggressively when people rush up on him even if it’s someone he knows. I almost wonder if he can’t see well. He had always gotten along well with other dogs and is very good with puppies but am afraid of what will happen if a unleashed dog runs up aggressively to him while he is on a leash. I am terrified of this happening. Any suggestions

  9. Neeko quickly becomes “unsocial” if I don’t constantly socialize her. I take her out as much as I can, so she will stay friendly and confident in new situations.

  10. I’ve learned to set our dogs up for success. Since it’s difficult for me to manage 4 dogs alone, I only walk them 2 at a time. Since being distracted makes it difficult for me to be a leader on our walks, I leave my iPod at home and go with a friend (pack walk) instead. There are so many things I’ve learned since becoming a pet blogger that I wish I knew when we brought home Rodrigo and Sydney.

    1. Yep, I leave my headphones at home too. I need to be aware of my surroundings when I’m walking my dog (and anytime I’m walking, really!).

  11. Brittany Agin

    Love these tips! With my two dogs I am trying to socialize them frequently and basically take them everywhere I go, but we sure have learned our limits. One of my biggest struggles is figuring out how to help my 6 year old Shepherd mix who reacts fearfully. Let alone the 10 month old Beagle mix puppy who seems to feel the need to bark/howl like crazy at every single person that he sees. Nothing quite like having two dog barking their heads off on walks.

  12. I guess mine is more of a question than a comment. When I’m walking Lexie and we pass people (some with a dog, and others without a dog), joggers, or people on bicycles, Lexie wants to lunge towards them, pulling her leash. I usually stop, have her sit, and we wait until the others are well past us. So when she’s lunging or pulling on the leash to reach them is it because she wants their attention or is she afraid of them so she wants to “hurt them first before they hurt her” type of scenario? I’ve never let her go to them because I don’t know if she wants to socialize or if she wants to bite.

    1. I have the same problem except my girl was attackred defending a dog she was so social before this now i never know what trigger her response had to trainer but still does any suggestions i have three labradors the other two are beyond social i want her to return to her old social self

    2. You can’t be sure what she wants…but watch her body language a tail tucked under the belly in insecure, and a tail that is really high can be dominance and possible agression. Having them sit is a great alternative to lunging…and having her see that you are calm and relaxed with this other person coming around. Get in between the line of sight so she can not fixate on the intruder, but bring her focus back to you.

  13. Thank you Lindsay, I like these tips. I do do some of them already, but I did learn a couple of new things. My dog unfortunately is very reactive towards strange dogs and I am now learning to make her sit, watch me and get treats when we cross paths with a strange dog until they move past us. We used to go to dog parks and she was fine, but when she started showing aggression on our walks, I stopped the dog park visits. It’s too bad though, I thought she liked them.

  14. Jean Patterson

    Lindsay, I have a 3 year old Rottweiler that is leash reactive, I have him in class twice a week, we always meet in different parts of town. We are a pack of older people trying to help each other out and anyone that adopts a dog from the shelter. Actually anyone that has issues with their dogs or just wants socializing. The biggest problem I have is my dog doesn’t give me advance warning that I can see. He just goes off. We DON’T have professional dog trainer in our area. At least within 100 miles. My dog has never attack anyone or another dog. In fact he plays very well with the other dogs in our pack and absolutely adores the people. When we go in public he just goes off on certain dogs or people. I am not sure how to stop him when I don’t see a warning. Other people in the pack have also watched for a signal and haven’t seen one.

  15. I’m currently living in Tonga, on a military compound. My dogs were happy meeting other dogs and going to dog parks, but we can’t take them out of the compound here as most of the dogs here are wild and aggressive. We return to Sydney in January. My dogs have not been near another dog in 3 years, they are 6 years old. Do you have any advice?

  16. A great precursor is to walk/run the dog and discharge the pent up energy. Follow up with a SINGLE teachable moment…don’t try to ‘cure’ multiply socialization behaviors at once.

  17. Great advice, Lindsay. I take the pups with me whenever I can and as a consequence, have pretty relaxed pups. I used to take them to dog parks in the D.C. area when we used to live there, but stopped doing so when we still lived there and no longer take them to any, period. I noticed that it can be a stressful environment and that many dog owners are completely oblivious to their dogs’ behavior while they’re enjoying their coffee and checking their phone non-stop.

  18. I had been told that you should not “coddle” a dog that is fear aggressive, because it is like you are agreeing with them that it is scary and you are encouraging that reaction. Is that not true? It is okay to try to calm your dog instead of yell at them? I have a dog that is about 6-7 years old, and she growls/lunges/shows her teeth with new dogs around. My boyfriend thinks she’s just establishing herself as the alpha in the pack as if it’s normal, but it makes me nervous to let her off a leash with other dogs around. Then again, I have never trained larger dogs and had to introduce them to other dogs. Any input would be appreciated!

  19. How do I deal with a shy pup. I rescued her from the pound 5 months ago, she’s about 9months now. I walk her everyday at least 30minutes and longer on weekends I take her out to the beach, down main streets etc. She is very shy and jumps away if someone trys to come near her, stops in her tracks if a person walks by us. I’ve tried picking her up and letting the other person pet her and she’s find with that but put her down and she shy’s away??

  20. Michelle Moustakas

    Thank you Lindsay! I have to admit that I have made almost all of these mistakes with socializing my golden retriever Moose around other dogs and as a result, Moose is people loving but dog aggressive, although not with every dog and not all the time, which makes it even more nerve wracking because it’s so unpredictable! Moose is the first dog I’ve ever had, wanting to wait until I retired so I’d have plenty of time and I made the mistake you noted of thinking that it was critical to make sure Moose was around a lot of other dogs from the beginning. We lived in an apartment complex at the time with lots of other mostly 6 month to 2 year old dogs who were mostly friendly but very rough and tumble. Moose was only 10 weeks old at the time and I just sort of “threw” him into the mix and encouraged him to mix it up with the other dogs. Looking back, I know there were signs he was uncomfortable but I just thought he’d grow out of it. Making it even worse was that they were on leash when they were playing and always got tangled up. We did take a puppy class, and he was fine during the training portion, but he was uncomfortable during “social time” and would growl at any puppies that approached him. I was told I needed to get in his face and yell UNACCEPTABLE” at him, which of course is another of the mistakes you point out. Then when he had all his shots I took him to the dog park thinking he just needed more experience with other dogs (I told you I made ALL the mistakes). It actually wasn’t too bad initially because it was winter and not many dogs were there and he got used to the ones who were there but when it started getting warm and more dogs started coming he got more and more uncomfortable and started growling when other dogs would approach. So I kept yelling NO in his face every time he growled as they had told me to do in puppy class. We finally had to stop going when Moose went after another dog who just happened to be in his way after Moose had gotten humped several times by a dog whose owner was nowhere to be found. We have since taken several reactive dog classes and we are better as a team in handling potentially difficult situations but I am always on guard. It breaks my heart because he is such a sweet dog otherwise and he considers every person he meets to be his best friend. But we do still take various classes and have started competing in barn hunt which requires him to be in close proximity to other dogs. He usually does pretty well with plenty of his special “dog treats” and reminders to pay attention to me. Keep putting these helpful pointers out there so that people can avoid the kind of mistakes I made!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh I’m sorry to hear Moose has some trouble with other dogs, that must be so difficult. It sounds like you are doing everything you can now and I bet you’ve made a lot more progress than you even realize. He sounds like such a sweet boy!

  21. My pup, Daenerys, is past 1 1/2 years old now.

    She was very active as a pup and loved digging, resulting in holes all over our yard. To remedy this I took her for walks a few times a day. This kept her busy as well as tired her out. It also made her familiar with the surrounding area in case she ever got lost. Mostly she met a lot of wonderful people and socialized with other dogs along the way.

    Once she was 6 months old, she was able to attend daycare (few times a month). There she was able to socialize off the leash and away from me for a while. She loved it! She still does.

    She also has play dates with my sisters dog, Zelda, who has been like a mother to my pup.

    She is the “perfect pup.” Well behaved, friendly….never met a human or a dog she didn’t like.

    Maybe just a little too friendly at times. She greets the plumber, the electrician, the pharmacy delivery men as if they were her best friends and actually they have become just that!

    I wonder at times if I haven’t “over-socialized” her to the extent that she will never be a good watchdog and warn us of a stranger or danger. Do you think that’s possible?

    She does keep all squirrels, birds, possums, etc. out of our yard so I guess she is territorial to a degree, but she did invite a stray dog in one day last year (a pibull who broke our yard gate to accept the invite). Once again she made a new friend!

    Question is: Can a dog be over-socialized?

  22. Short first meetings, gradual longer play dates.

    We sometimes care for dogs that “own” our friends, and they reciprocate for us. It works out well. The dogs are with trusted people, treated well and enjoy the time. But careful preparations way ahead of time is required.

    With all of our dogs (5 in 12 years), the first time is only “greet.” Neutral area, allow to sniff, prevent “play.” Sometimes when it is a puppy, we only “greet” or “play” with dogs that are up to date, in a neutral area. With a puppy before all their shots, they stay in the arms of a person at the dog(s)’ level.

    We make it short, happy experience for ALL dogs and let them sniff each other. Then it is over.

    Then do this over a couple times over a few days. Follow with “visiting” but a short visit. Then longer ones.

    We intervene often and never allow “play” to become too exciting or have older dogs getting stressed by younger ones pestering to play.

  23. Mike and Scout in Texas

    Thanks for great thoughts. We foster for our local shelter and getting a puppy socialized is often a big part of what we try to do along with giving medications. Noises around the house, reacting appropriately to visitors and other dogs are our main concerns. We also start safety and good manners training, but it is just a start to help the puppy to get a good forever home. A fostered puppy or dog will usually be on the path to success but any adoptee will need ongoing positive support to become a good dog. Young puppies will not be house trained, may still be teething. All will need loving support while you get to know each other. And stopping at McDonald’s drive thru on the way home for a small plain burger is one way to get the relationship off to a good start.

  24. This a cool thread! My Alaskan husky (Jack Daniels) and I go for a short hike 5-6 miles (sometimes longer) every morning no matter the weather, he’s never leashed for those. His best buddy is a blue heeler and he’s with us as well. We live ne of Seattle and since he’s a sled dog we also go bikjoring a few times a week. At first he would get a little sketchy going pass dogs that would lunge at him even though they were leashed. Nothing bothers him now when we pass others with dogs but I’m always assessing the potentials for an upcoming problem before we get to the passing point.rarely do I have to stop for safety reason.
    Even the occasional mountain lion or bobcat he pays them no mind when running. He’s great letting me know when bears and deer are around when hiking. He clear signals.
    It was just constantly going out hiking and biking,letting him figure things out. Jack is very confident now and very friendly with people and dogs.

    For leashed nighttime walks around our small town he’s free to stop and sniff for as long as he wants. We constantly vary our routes and lengths. I think that’s really important.

    I have dehydrated fish skins and those are his after dinner “mints” and they’re great for keeping his teeth clean. About a month ago I started hiding a few skins around the living/dining room. He gets his one skin after dinner then when he comes back inside and begins his skin search. I’m always trying to find more ways to keep him mentally sharp.
    Thanks for having this forum ! I appreciate it and i’m very much enjoying what everyone has written.

  25. I have a 10 months old boston terrier. She always barks in an angry way at other dogs. I have no clue how to correct this behavior. I need help!!

  26. I have a 10 month old Westie that puts EVERYTHING in his mouth!
    Any suggestions anyone? He has a Yorkie brother and a Shepard sister. He goes to the dog park every day and is with one of us all the time.
    And never runs out of energy or chewing up everything.
    Thanks

    1. I give my dog bully sticks. They seem to satisfy her need to chew. I also never leave her unattended. She’s in a crate when I’m out and either napping or playing with a toy in my line of sight when I’m home working.

  27. Sandy Weinstein

    my girls are pretty well socialized. i dont go to dog parks though. the only time my girls bark is at home when someone is on the property or they see a deer or other animal.

  28. 7 months ago I rescued a 3 yr old Newfoundland Landseer “Lady”. They are usually very docile. She was attacked by another dog when she was a puppy so she’s very nervous around other dogs. I have my daughter bring her very docile mixture breed “Bella” to socialize with my dog. At first “Bella” sits to show Lady that Bella isn’t being agressive. They smile each other then we calmly begin our walk together. So far this is going well.

  29. Hello ,

    I would like to know what u think of e-collars . I recently purchased one and my old English bulldog had a bad reaction . I would hate to make her aggressive, she is reactive while on a leash .

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      It depends on the situation, the owner and the dog. I recommend them sometimes for problem behaviors like eating poop, digging or counter surfing. I generally don’t recommend them for dogs that react on a leash but that’s just because I’m not comfortable using one myself for that purpose. Some trainers have the timing right and the experience. I don’t. For reactive dogs, I recommend the tips in this post using desensitization: https://www.thatmutt.com/2015/07/08/stop-a-dog-from-barking-and-growling-at-other-dogs-on-walks/

      It’s not that you shouldn’t use an e-collar for reactivity, but just know what you’re doing and get help from a professional if you need it.

      When you say your bulldog had a bad reaction, do you mean the dog acted aggressively to the correction?

  30. The most disturbing thing I see people do are two things with their dog, very young pups and toy breeds more are inclined to; one_ pick the dog up and carry it for blocks IF the person sees a larger dog approaching on lead. UGH… I have large Hounds.

    Two_ rewarding the dog with affection or words or both and treats after they misbehave and or embarrass their human. SMH

    I live in an academic community, several top 5 Universities in my area yet, 7 thousand dogs, very little social skill awareness in people with or without dogs. You cannot teach that which you have never learned. That is becoming a huge social problem, not just in my area, I have friends across the country who also experience these issues.

  31. My 14 month old Weimaraner was attached by a pit bull at 5 months old. He’s never gotten over the trauma. Socializing him has proven tough. He’s very protective of us. What steps could help. We take our dogs everywhere. But his lunging is obviously a problem.

  32. My situation is the same as most others. I adopted a 3 year old shelter dog with leash issues. When he sees people a block away he immediately puts tension on the leash. Seeing other dogs is even worse. He’ll bark, maybe from aggression but also whines & cries like he wants to meet other dogs & is disappointed. I really believe he was never socialized with other dogs or it was done badly.I know how to resolve the issue with other dogs, but it takes another calmer dog to be able to do it & I don’t have access to one. As for leash pulling, I had a trainer work with him & had him show me a few things but they don’t work consistently. Some days he’s better than others but not often. I walk him twice a day every day & nothing seems to change. It depends a lot on his excitement level when we go. It seems that trying to go for a walk when the dog is in an excited state is probably the worst thing you can do. Of course, when he realizes what’s going on, he freaks out, spinning in circles like a maniac on steroids. As I stated, we go twice a day, usually around the same time so it’s not like he doesn’t expect it. He actually does better when I let him walk on his own. He’s always on a leash in case I’d need to grab him & he stays close & obeys when I talk to him but that gives him mixed signals about using a leash so I’m pretty much at a loss. All I know for sure is that walking with an unruly dog isn’t much fun for either party.

  33. Leash greeting! other owners do not understand how unnatural that is for dogs as well as dangerous. other dog owners don’t get it when I am shouting “no leash greeting! no leash greeting!” I try and explain it to them but most are already mad at me by then.

  34. I need help with dogs that bark at almost everything. We have five smaller dogs and if one decides there is something to bark at they all go to town. I just read where yelling doesn’t help as they think we are just joining in. What can I do? Forget sleeping on nights the coyotes are out, that’s for sure!

  35. I LOVE this thread!

    We have a lab/golden retriever mix named Leroy ( almost 4 years old).

    Our boy is pretty well rounded, but can be timid. Thinking back to the day we picked him up, his mom wouldn’t come near us, and barked and growled the whole time we were there, while his dad could not stop giving us all the kisses, so I think his timidness could be part of his disposition.

    We slacked as fur parents and didn’t socialize him properly when he was young. We lived on our own and took him for walks every day hoping we would cross paths with other people and dogs but we actually never ran into any one, ever. The only dog he ever came in contact with is our parents dog, and thye get along great! ( we’ve since moved and are now in a busier area so he sees new things quite often)

    We’ve gotten to the point on walks where he likes some dogs, but not others, and we can’t tell why ( but, he’s also not the type to initiate play anyways, he cares more about the people) – so, when the time comes for us to cross paths with another dog, we just get off the side walk and walk on the road until we pass the dog and he’s fine. We used to make him sit and wait as others passed but I had read somewhere that redirecting works as well and so far I like it more! If we come to a dog/person head on, he doesn’t bark, his hackles will go up but that’s it. If a dog or person comes behind us, he does NOT like that – that’s when he’ll try to do his tough guy deep bark and lunge. I’ll redirect him, and walk the other way, then, turn around and begin to follow the people who came up behind us and at that point he is fine.

    dog parks – no way! we’ve taken him twice and learned they just werent good for him. he was terrified of every single dog. all he did was follow us around and go say hello to people, but when all the dogs swarmed him you could just tell he did not want to be there, so, that was the end of that. We’ve taken him to a farm a couple times that have 3 or 4 barn dogs that just walk around, and he was fine with them. They all followed us as a group, so if they started to get too close to Leroy he would just redirect himself somewhere else. He is also really good with dogs, off leash, one on one with play time. But as soon as there’s more than one other dog, hes not a happy camper ( aside from the barn example above, that was a feel good moment for me seeing how good he was doing) I’ve learned not to rush him to be besties with every dog he sees, and that’s okay.

    We took him to a car race/camping weekend which was kind of a nightmare – we brought him to the track, and for the most part he was fine, unless a dog came up behind us to find some where to sit with its people – all the dogs that were there before we got there, Leroy was fine with. Luckily, as mentioned above, we did have an escape plan and if he was getting to be too much for me to handle I brought him back to the camper. ( where he would bark and lunge at people walking by… but it wasnt aggressive? One fellow recognized this and even though Leroy looked terrifying with his hackles up and barking, this guy walked right up and Leroy instantly switched gears to smothering this guy with kisses and the constant bum wiggle.)

    Our other issue is he barks and charges our fence ( we back onto EP land that has a small trail, so he sees people, dog, wild life, wind blowing the leaves in the trees, and all of these things make him bark. Luckily its not constant, and if he barks and we’re not outside with him, calling his name quickly gets him to come back into the house, so it hasn’t been a huge problem, but definitely something we’re looking into.

    Hmm did I have a question, or was I just venting, now I don’t remember! but again, this is such a helpful article and some good socialization tips! we’ll keep at it, 4 is still pretty young and I think with consistency, we’re almost there!

  36. I don’t know if anyone yet raised up the fact that a puppy should not be separated from his mum and puppyfamily before the age of 8 weeks. That is the basis of socializing a dog.

    1. If you can wait until 9 weeks it’s even better. When I was a breeder years ago.. I preferred 10 weeks, by then the pups were mature, not wining and almost housebroke from watching Mom.

  37. We have a security system with a very loud siren when it goes off accidentally. I’m trying to figure out when we get our puppy how to desensitize it from the loud sound because it startles even us when it does go off. It doesn’t happen very often but occasionally someone might open a door or walk in without shutting the alarm off in time. Any ideas?

  38. Darlene F Appling

    I think one way to know how to socialize your dog is to keep know their personality. Some dogs are more calm in situations than other dogs. Others don’t do well around too many dogs. I personally like Cesar Milan and I try to follow his advice.

  39. Good advice. Question… I recently adopted a two and a half year old pitbull terrier. He was found as a stray and was extremely thin. He has an extremely sweet disposition and trains very easily. Here’s the problem, he has separation anxiety and wants to be near me most of the time although this is subsiding. I recently was attacked and my dog attacked my attacker. He was on my property. The police were there and shot him with a pellet gun, he has pellet wounds in all four legs and also has
    a laceration that had to be sewed up on his face. When I got him back he still has the same Sweet Disposition and so far no obvious behavioral issues ( it’s only been a few weeks )
    We have moved are now staying with my ex husband home. Together we have three other rescue dogs (shared custody) that are trained plus cats. For the moment to keep the stress level down I’m keeping him (Snoopy) outside with a large shelter. What is the best way for us to introduce a dog who has recently been in an attack situation and has been attacked to the other animals; who are also highly attached and older. I’m afraid to bring him in the house right away we have been trying to walk them together. Any suggestions? Is it better to wait and be cautious or are we just instilling fear and jealousy.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m sorry to hear you were attacked. You mean by a dog or a person?

      For introductions, I would do so outside on a walk where they first are introduced walking parallel or one in front of the other, not nose to nose. I would introduce him to one dog at a time. You could start with your most easy going dog and work from there. In the house, a pet gate or baby gate can help keep him separate yet included until everyone is comfortable. I would also have him drag a leash around (when you’re home and can supervise) once you do allow him freedom around the other dogs, just for extra safety.

  40. How do I change the behavior of my now 1.5 year old dog who is reactive when around children. He used to just shy away and now he barks at them. His bark sounds super aggressive but he has never shown any physical aggression but the noise makes people fearful. Both our dogs are very protective of their home and immediately bark when people enter the house and continue to be triggered if it is someone they are not familiar with. Neither of them have ever snapped at anyone and their bark truely is greater than their bite but I do not want friends and family to be scared of their barking.

      1. Meredith A LaRocque

        My dog LOVES people, kids and other dogs. She is Miss social butterfly and thinks everyone should pet her and play with her. However, obviously, not everyone wants to. We’ve been working on not getting so excited especially with little children. She loves them and wants to jump up and lick them. That’s a bit scary for little ones even though my dog means no harm.

  41. Pingback: How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Dogs – dogtrainingfriends.com

  42. Not sure if this is still an active thread but it has a tone of wonderful information.
    I am kinda hoping for some suggestions on a bit of a bind that I find myself in. I have a 6 yr old Aussie that I got off Craig’s List when he was a little over 1 year old. He was not socialized and was borderline neglected so he had a fair bit of anxiety issues. But while I started doing general obedience with him, he started to alert me when my blood sugar got low (I’m type 1 diabetic). We immediately found a trainer and got him trained as a diabetic alert dog for my and I have little doubt in saying he has actually saved my life at least once and kept me out of hospitals multiple times since training. He is amazing with people and kids. The problem is we had a cross country move a few years back and somewhere between then and now he has started to become somewhat aggressive toward other dogs but only in certain situations. Specifically at my hockey rink with a Queensland healer and a GSD. I understand the Queensland as it is very dominant and attacked him once while a friend was holding him. But the GSD is very calm and well behaved and I can’t seem to get my dog to understand he is not a threat. My dog is fine at dog parks for the most part (never fights but on rare occasion will mount usually when tired or sometimes with specific dogs) and will occasionally lung if another dog gets too close while on leash (but not if he is in his service dog vest).

    I don’t want him picking fights with the GSD or lunging at other dogs. I’ve tried distracting with treats and other commands (sit or “look at me”) but once the treats are gone his attention snaps back to the other dog. I’ve tried harnesses and gentle leader which allow me to control him better but doesn’t seem to de-escalate him. Not really sure what the next step is. Lol I even took him to a trainer but he seemed to know we were “in class” and was a total golden boy and let the other dogs trot by without a look (guessing that means the problem is somehow with me but not sure what I’m doing wrong).

    Any suggestions?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *