Socializing: Why it is Not All About Play and Interaction

Handsome Young Boy Playing with His Dog Isolated95% of the time I think we totally misunderstand the idea of “socializing” our puppies and our adult dogs.

We think socializing means exposing our dogs to something with reckless abandon.

Want to socialize your puppy or dog with other dogs; release him into a dog park.

Want to socialize your puppy with children; release him with a room full of toddlers.

Want to socialize your dog with men with hats; release him at a baseball game.

Ha ha that last one sounds kind of ridiculous right?

The truth is that they are all kind of ridiculous!

The majority of puppies and adult dogs could never handle any of those situations without trauma, either to themselves or the thing they are supposed to be socializing to or with.

I recently wrote an article The 7 Socialization Pitfalls to Avoid  where I discuss socializing dogs with other dogs and what is definitely not recommended and why.


But it got me thinking…

Socialization comes in many forms, not just dog to dog.

It comes in the form of:

  • Dog to adult
  • Dog to child
  • Dog to other animal (cat, rat, bird)
  • Dog to thing (skateboard, jackhammer, bicycle)

And, as I mentioned above it doesn’t mean reckless abandon with those things, like many people think!

Instead it means control when those things or items are introduced.

Let’s Take Children

I for one have a very intolerant Belgian Malinois.Depositphotos_8966990_s-2015

When he was a puppy, he was actually MORE intolerant than he is now.

But let me be the first to tell you, that if he doesn’t want to interact with or “socialize” with you; he isn’t going to and if I were to force him it could be ugly.

He is extremely standoffish.

I can’t change his inherent personality and transform him into a Golden Retriever, or a dog that loves people.

Of course I want to socialize him with children…

But who wants to opt to be the parent that would allow me to take him off leash and plop him into a room with their child.

Any takers?

Even at 9 months (I got him a bit older)  I would never have thought about doing anything of the sort.

In fact, especially then, I didn’t even allow kids to pet him.

Socializing Doesn’t Mean Interacting

I can't make that heading big enough!!!!

You see, to me, socialization doesn’t equal interaction.

Socialization in my opinion, means learning to tolerate learn how to behave around and then hopefully like what I am introducing.

I mean, I don’t expect my dog to hold a jackhammer?

Nor do I expect him to get so close he needs to wear goggles…

But I do expect to walk down the street in the city if they are doing construction without him wanting to run in the opposite direction.

I don’t expect him to let the rats at the pet store climb through his fur…

But I do expect him to remain in heel position and give me focus while we walk through the pet store.

I don’t expect him to let you hug him.

Heck, I don’t expect him to let you pet him.

But because I have socialized him by not expecting these things, I also expect him to sit in heel position, paying attention to me and my commands while totally ignoring you and showing no signs of aggression (as long as you aren’t aggressive with me).

I am pretty sure if I expected to change who he is, to force him to be petted, he would be a ticking time bomb.

We he knows that I respect him and his boundary needs, and he respects my call for obedience.

It is a cool thing if you really think about it.

By my not forcing him, he doesn’t have to be aggressive.

And, over the years (he is 3 now) he has gotten more and more tolerant and occasionally solicits affection from people I have gotten to know.

The Truth Is..

You could take the perfectly sociable puppy and release it with a pack of children and good things may happen.

But bad things can happen too.

I once had a friend who let the neighborhood kids play with her puppy and they dropped her and broke her leg.

That dog never liked kids again, because the puppy was in her puppy fear stage, and the children paired with the pain she incurred was something she associated together.

And, the wrong puppy released with kids may end in tooth marks, crying, and teaching the puppy to dislike kids and teaching the puppy that aggression keeps kids and people from doing uncomfortable things.

After all, aggression can be a very effective learned behavior!!  Especially with a timid puppy or dog.

These dogs learn if they growl, nip, or bite that people don’t push them or touch them or come into their space.  These dogs can learn to get more and more blatantly aggressive to simply keep people or things at bay.

Isn’t the better approach to teach control and respect first and then determine what the puppy or dog wants?

Having been a dog trainer for over 20 years, and having done some of all of these things (yes even inappropriate dog/dog and dog/child socialization), I can tell you that in my experience respect and control go a lot better without the risk of aggression and intolerance.

Bomb Dogspolice dog

Let’s take a totally ridiculous scenario and break it down.

When teaching a bomb detection dog how to detect bombs, at NO TIME does the owner/handler teach the dog to touch, interact with or play with the scent of the bomb odor.  They are taught to sit at the odor and then are rewarded with a toy for a passive alert (the sit).

Now, it is pretty simple to understand why…

We don’t want the dog excitedly racing toward and grabbing a bomb; for obvious reasons.

Training in this way would leave a mass of destruction human, canine and other in its wake.

Instead, the dog is taught extreme respect and appropriate behavior when in the presence of the odor.  Sit, calmly.

This is critical.

One wrong move by one of these super trained dogs can mean mass casualties.

Why Can’t We All Train This Way?

Why can’t we all train our dogs in this same respectful manner?

Why can’t “socialization” mean training and control?

Why is it that people think it has to mean reckless abandon with…

I wouldn’t want a bomb dog that was trained to have reckless abandon with the odor of a bomb; and likewise I don’t want a dog that has reckless abandon toward people or children or really anything else.

Sure, I am thrilled to see my dogs and other dogs that are happy and social, but this doesn’t discount the need for respect and control!

Sometimes controlling the 150# overly happy and excited dog is just as important if not more important than controlling the aloof or fearful dog.

Because the happy, jumper can do more damage in an over excited greeting than another dog would!

For example, my dog isn’t going to come over and jump on you, he has no desire to interact with you at all… but that 120# Labrador Retriever adolescent could knock your child down and hurt him very quickly with very bad circumstances.

I say, teach your dog manners and control AND THEN add intimate socialization if your dog is actively social.

But do not force sociability on a dog that doesn’t want to be touched or a dog that is too exuberant and can’t control himself, until he acquires that ability!


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  1. Jean Ladeira says:

    You are 100% correct. I have a Bull Terrier who is 3 months old and a very excitable dog, she is still very young and I am taking her to training, but she does nip and jump. I am trying obedience but sometimes she just does not listen, maybe because she is still very young with lots of energy. Thanks for this information it makes a lot of sense.


  2. Melanie Chase says:

    Thank you for your insight. This makes perfect sense to me. I recently acquired a Great Pyrenees puppy who will be big when fully grown. So, she needs to have good manners and control starting now. I’ve seen dogs at play groups that run around out of control and my thoughts were suspect on what the people thought was “socializing their dog.” I already innately knew there was something amiss, but you have put it in a finally stated fashion that I will pursue with my new puppy. Thank you for sharing. Melanie


  3. Barbara says:

    I have 6 dogs 1 is an inbred pit bull male 1 is a pit lab mix female 3 of them above dogs puppies and 1 ,11 year old jack russell. They problem is the.male put us very agrees I’ve adult son whom they dog originally belonged yo. My son used abuse as a way of training this dog. I have since taken them male and cannot stop him from agresdively going after my son when he comes into our house. I am wits end. I usually have my he comes over so I csn.put them dog away before he comes over. None of my dogs are socialized as we live in their woods on 45 acres neighbors or friends that stop by. Please HELP!!!!!


    Minette Reply:

    you need a veterinary behaviorist


  4. Darlene Phairis says:

    My 8 yr. Old terrier mix is a rescue dog I suspect was disciplined by being hit, probably by a stick. So I laid my cane in the middle of the room until he could walk close to it instead of giving it wide berth. I recently acquired a couple of grandkids, 6 and 11, and I believe he hasn’t been around kids. He is friendly until one of them makes a sudden move or tries to hug him, then he runs to me and then keeps his distance. I am not really sure how to handle that situation. ???


  5. Jenny says:

    I also have a Belgian Malinois and his name is Buddy. Buddy is six years old and 96 pounds of awesome…as long as he knows you. He hates other dogs, except my beagle (Zoe) who he’d grown up around but she has since passed away. I would love to take him to a dog park but I know that right now that would be a horrible idea. After reading this, I’m thinking that perhaps the dog park seems more important to me than it really would be to him. Interested in your thoughts on this.


    Minette Reply:

    Yes!! Why would you take a dog that hates other dogs to a dog park? He doesn’t want to go. And, he may very well lose his life there.


  6. Jenny says:

    I have also been a fan of Caesar’s and it is often drilled home that a dog should be around other dogs and be able to interact with other dogs without being aggressive. On the show, you see the dog before and then you see the dog afterwards happily playing with other dogs. It made me feel like I should be doing something that I wasn’t doing. You gave some perspective that I hadn’t heard from a trainer before and I appreciate that. It’s helped me to relax about my pal. He loves playing with me and it sounds like I should just leave well enough alone, so that’s what I’ll do. Easier for me. Easier for him.


    Minette Reply:

    It is not true. As with a lot of other things that Caesar teaches.

    My dogs don’t need to be socially playful with other dogs, they are MY dogs and should listen to ME


  7. Annie says:

    We have a GSD/Aussie mix, she’s 2r old today actually. We also have 3 other dogs that run with her, but they don’t have the problem. Our neighbors have 4 dogs of their own and there is a wire cattle fence between the 2 back fields. Problem is Panda will aggressively attack the fence when she sees their cattle dog, as he will too. Our neighbors thinks it’s funny and haven’t helped in the situation. She has no problem with their other dogs. It seems that both dogs have “hated” each other from the first time they saw each other. The cattle is 3yr old. We’ve both had them since they were pups.They have never had any interaction except through the fence. Anyway we can break her from “attacking the fence”?


  8. Nancy says:

    I have a 9 month old male miniature dachshund, named Henry. We got Henry at 9 weeks from a breeder. Once we got him home he seemed fearful and scared. He has never been an outgoing dog. He doesn’t love when people come over, he barks and barks. We’ve had Bark Busters out, while they did help us learn how to get some of his barking to stop, he is not ever going to be the dog that loves visitors. He seems like he wants to meet other dogs on walks, so I stop, however he immediately goes between my legs and pees. If he sees his harness and leash, he will go hide under the couch. I can usually get him to go outside and then put the leash and harness on and then he will go for a walk, but you can tell he does not LOVE the experience.
    He hates being held (restrained) while having his teeth cleaned, his paws wiped, any vet procedure and even getting his harness on. He may get nippy if he feels like your holding him is dangerous. (which we are not trying to hurt or cause him pain, just clean his teeth or to have the vet cut his nails).
    He started an anti-anxiety medication a month ago and he seems more at ease at home, but even with an extra dose before the Vet, he got nippy when they tried cutting his nails.
    Henry is not a bad dog. He is sweet and loving with our immediate family. He just has zero desire to be around anyone else. We do not let guests approach him and never leave him alone with children, other than ours. Any more tips on dealing with an anti-social dog?


    Minette Reply:

    Find a boarded veterinary behaviorist to help


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