How to Socialize a Dog with Humans: Even the Timid Pooch Can Do It!
Socialization is a lot more complicated than it sounds, especially when it comes to how to socialize your dog (or even your puppy) with humans.
People even misunderstand it when it comes to socializing your dog or even socializing your pup with other dogs.
Inadvertently, and due to ignorance dog owners often create problems of “wild dogs” and reactivity, especially when our puppies or dogs are around other dogs and people are around.
This reactivity can lead to over excited but happy dogs, or it can actually lead to the opposite which is over excited and aggressive dogs.
Essentially, the goal is to avoid this reactivity and over excitement all together and train a dog that can control himself in all kinds of social situations without getting over excited and losing his mind.
Let me be clear early on; being over excited and friendly is almost as bad as being over excited and aggressive. Sure aggressive dogs are worse and looked at more harshly, but an over excited young dog or pup can be nearly as dangerous.
Because when a dog is over excited he is not mentally in control of his mental faculties. A dog like this is more likely to jump, scratch, paw, nip or even bite. I wrote an article a few years ago about some dogs who get so excited to see their owners when they get home that they are likely to bite them. How Your Dog’s Extreme Excitement Might Lead to a Serious Bite click here.
I always like human analogies, because I think it helps people to better understand our canine friends when we put it into focus with us humans. Have you ever met your hero, your idol? That person you looked up to and wanted to emulate when you were a child or a teenager? Mine was Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers and I remember how excited I was when I met him. I was barely capable of forming words and not drooling on myself and I was probably 25 at the time!
I also think of the crowds of bawling and crying girls they would show footage of when the Beetles would come to play their music in their towns.
These people, and myself weren’t exactly in control of their thought processes and mental faculties because they were TOO EXCITED! Some of the women at Beetles concerts even passed out!
Although having an “idol” and avidly following a celebrity or someone’s career is a distinctly human attribute (or problem, you decide) I feel like dogs can suffer from the same mental disconnected excitement, frustration, and sometimes aggression (when we allow it).
Just yesterday I read a meme (I am a horrible Facebook addict on occasion due to the humor involved).
Let me share it with you!
From a Professional Dog Trainer
Agree or Disagree
How many wolves go around visiting other wolf packs? Wolves being wild animals.
How many lions go around visiting other prides? Lions being wild animals.
How many horses go around visiting other herds? Wild or domesticated horses.
They don’t because they’ll get killed. They don’t because that is not their family.
So you don’t need to expect your dog to go and say “hi” to other dogs and people. They are not part of your family.
Teaching your dog to ignore other people and dogs is actually far healthier mentally and physically. Teaching your dog that other dogs are “none of their business” results in far fewer issues.
Your dog won’t become reactive because they don’t have to feel stressed about interacting with strange dogs and people.
He won’t feel like he needs to become aggressive or protective he can even learn to ignore aggressive dogs and aggressive behavior from other dogs and animals.
And, your dog will behave a lot better!
I have said it before and I will say it again, taking your dog to the dog park and letting him run amuck for hours at a time is not “socialization” (especially if he is aggressive). It is a dangerous way for young puppies, and even adult dogs. Many times, people bring non-socialized and aggressive dogs to dog parks for “socialization”. This is no way to achieve socialization with your adult dog or pup. This is especially not safe because people with aggressive dogs have a hard time understanding this fact. Socialized dogs are the only dogs that should be at dog parks.
I often hear “My dog is good with MOST dogs at the dog park but attacks others”. Or he is not an aggressive dog at a daycare or boarding facility.
This may well be true of daycare and boarding facilities because they often have puppy socialization classes, puppy classes or screen dogs for certain play groups. As you can imagine, you wouldn’t put an 11 year old geriatric, dysplastic Poodle with a nine month old wild Goldendoodle puppy!
Most daycare and boarding facilities match young puppies of like size with young puppies of like size and match the dog’s behavior with like dog behavior. After all, daycare facilities and boarding facilities stand to lose money when dogs attack each other. I still prefer dog boarding and dog daycare facilities with cameras so that you can see your dog play; because I have found out the hard way that some of these facilities lie about dog socialization abilities because they don’t want to lose a client. Puppy classes and puppy socialization classes can also be great places to learn to socialize your dog appropriately.
Always be cautious.
Dog parks can be scary places because no one is setting up these or any rules. To the owners that say their dogs can socialize with some but not others I empathize. I don’t want to socialize with all people either, but some dogs are bullies and fight when they meet other bullies.
Imagine going to Wal-Mart and having someone bully you or punch you in the face every now and again. How would you feel about going to Wal-Mart? I bet you might feel reactive, apprehensive, or even aggressive.
I recommend avoiding dog parks because no one is in charge and I can’t control what happens with my dog or his sociability.
Find out more about the dangers of dog parks, here.
At the very least, running with no rules among other dogs ruins your dog’s impulse control and ability to be able to control himself when seeing dogs and people in other areas.
After all, he is not learning the composure he needs in order to socialize kindly and effectively, he is instead doing whatever he wants whenever he wants, with “reckless abandon.
I liken this to my friends’ parties vs. my work parties. I may drink a little more, tell a little more dirty jokes, and play more adult type word games at my friends’ parties. I have common sense at my work parties and maybe have one drink to be social and try and keep things professional no matter where we are… after all, I want a job to return to on Monday.
Dogs, however, don’t have common sense… he is that wild dog that learned poor social skills wherever he goes!
Safe Human Socialization
Human socialization is a lot like dog to dog socialization! Reckless abandon and no rules is not the safe way to go about it. Obedience is my first rule for socialization!
So that makes young puppy socialization difficult if not impossible, right? Actually, nothing is further from the truth! Puppies can learn that good social skills come with good impulse control and obedience. After all, I don’t want my Cane Corso puppy to learn to excitedly jump on new people he meets; this could eventually injure another dog owner or person.
And, the rules should be the same for a Great Dane as they are for a Toy Poodle; good social skills and appropriate greetings are a must for any good canine companion and good puppy socialization!
Hang the Moon for your Dog
You’ll have to forgive me, I am from Wyoming and we have some fun old cowboy statements like “cowboy up” or “hung the moon” . I think “cowboy up” is pretty obvious, it means grow up and deal with it. But when you think the absolute best of someone, when you think they are pretty perfect; it is said that you think they “hung the moon”.
I need my dog to think I am this person. Sure, he or she is going to like or love me… but I almost want them “stalker like” obsessed with me when we are together (this is not healthy when we are not because he also needs independence so that he doesn’t develop separation anxiety)!
Let me explain…
I have to confess, I am not the best thing on earth; cats are better than me, other dogs are better than me, heck dead squirrels are probably better than me! But I don’t want my dog to discover that about other people, dogs, dead squirrels or the like.
In order to effectively be in control of his behavior effectively, he has to think that I have and control the best things in his life! If he thinks anyone else or anything else is better, they have more power
Give Other People Treats
One of the big pieces of advice that we give to new puppy owners is to give other people treats to give them. This is one of those double edged swords like take on rewarding your puppy with food when you are potty training. It can have a negative effect; but it is still a good idea. Let me explain, again.
YOU should be in control of the best treats, you should give other people mediocre treats like generic dog biscuits to give my dog upon meeting.
I teach puppy classes, on a fairly regular basis.
For the first 3 weeks, I waltz into class with cheese, or boiled chicken, or homemade liver treats; click here for those recipes.
The puppies in my classes think “I hung the moon”. They worship my arrival. They squeal, they jump toward me and some of them want to jump into my van and leave to live with me. One of the first things I start out saying on week three, “Your puppies love me! They think I am the best thing on earth; which is okay because that is why you pay me the big bucks… but make sure that it is YOU that become the best thing on earth or he/she will great everyone this way!”
Let’s face it, as a dog or puppy trainer during puppy classes or socialization classes, I get jumped on, a lot! It isn’t a huge deal as long as the dog owner recognizes the problem and puts forth effort to change it and gain their dog’s attention and adoration.
You see, if your young puppy or even adult dog is sitting in front of you for a reward as you greet a new person, he is too preoccupied to jump on people that he is meeting!
I don’t necessarily recommend giving a treat to each new person we meet. I may do it occasionally, but I want my dog to pay more attention to me than to strangers. I want to be in control of his behaviors.
I want him to learn to sit or lie down if he wants to interact socially with someone! If he does that (and he wants to interact or be petted) then that can be the reward as long as he continues to be well behaved.
I have no problems walking a rambunctious young puppy or adult dog away from a social situation. Remember my analogy about my work parties? If you want to socialize your dog, you have appropriate behavior, if you lose your social skills, you lose the ability to socialize until you can compose yourself again. Socializing your dog appropriately can be the reward!
You can also have rewards for paying attention to me and simply showing good behavior like sitting or lying down. This gives your puppy or dog an appropriate alternate behavior to jumping and rambunctious behavior.
What if I Have a Fearful Puppy?
This is really important if you have a fearful puppy; obedience is your best friend, to both of you!! The more your dog or puppy can do, the more he can feel independent and confident and the less he feels like he needs to be reactive or aggressive or show aggressive defense mechanisms (growling, barking, hackling) and other signs of fear or fearful behavior.
Build his confidence, don’t take it!
Sooooo many dog owners with good intentions think that the right thing to do is to hand the puppy off to the stranger or force interaction.
This is THE WORST thing that you can do for a puppy with fear issues. You are teaching him that you cannot be trusted.
Need help building trust click here.
In order to build his confidence, he must trust you. If you take that trust and force him to be fearful and defend himself, you have no idea how he will adjust at that moment and during later interactions. He might decide the socialize and interact and learn that nothing bad happened, OR he might resort to fear aggression the next time he is forced to interact with strangers when he is feeling scared. WE as humans or dog owners cannot force a dog into a certain feeling that we want them to feel, we can only help to set them up for success by teaching them confidence and letting them work out situations through a trusting relationship with you.
Imagine that you are going into a bad neighborhood. Alone you are nervous, a little reactive, and worried something bad will happen. If it does, you are alone and can only use what you have on yourself to defend yourself.
Now imagine that you are driving through the same neighborhood but you are riding with 3 US Marines or police officers that are friends and that you trust. Would you feel more comfortable? More confident? Less worried even if something did scare you?
Chances are the answer is a resounding YES.
The whole point is that friendship and level of trust. I am more confident when I have a friend that I trust with me. I know that this friend “has my back” and won’t let anything bad happen to me. These are the friends that I want in my circle. We have all had friends who let us down, or disappoint us or make poor choices when it comes to friendship; and we learn that we can’t trust these people. You may still be friends with them, but you don’t trust them with your secrets or in times of need.
Be that loyal “friend” or dog owner for your dog! Make sure that your dog or puppy has complete trust in you. Don’t break his trust in you by forcing him to do something that he is clearly indicating is making him feel uncomfortable.
I have, indeed, told people and children that they could not pet my dog or my puppy, when the dog or puppy was clearly indicating that he is uncomfortable. I will hurt human feelings before I risk the trust of my dog or put someone at risk for aggression or a bite.
Be smart when it comes to socializing a puppy or an adult dog! Remember your dog is ultimately an animal, he isn’t human and we can’t change his feelings except to arm him with training and confidence. Socialize slowly and at his level, don’t push him or lose his trust! And, as always make sure that it is fun!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.