Category Archives: Socialization

2 classes prior to 12 weeks of age reduces aggression

2 classesDid you know 2 classes prior to 12 weeks of age can reduce aggression issues?

According to a study conducted by Rachel A Casey., Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 152, 52– 63, puppies that attend 2 puppy classes prior to 12 weeks of age have a reduced risk of social issues by about 1.6 times.  Wow, that is big!

There are a lot of reasons people wait before attending classes.  Here is a list.

1.  Many people still don’t know puppies should begin classes before they have completed their first set of vaccines.  The American Veterinary Behavior Association recommends puppies begin attending puppy classes by 8 weeks of age.  

2. Money 

3. They think they can do the training themselves.  Maybe they can, but it is very difficult to get in all the socialization necessary on your own.

4. Puppy charm – who can get mad at a  puppy.  At this stage, the symptoms of a problem don’t seem like an issue to the owner.

5. Time – It takes time to train a dog.  The thing is a well trained dog takes a lot less effort to live with than one that is not trained.

Owning a dog with social issues is not pleasant and does not full fill the dream most of us have for our dog.  Much of the time, the owners of dogs with this issue are stressed out and sometimes have to make dreadful, heart wrenching decisions.  In addition, many of these dogs end up with compromised quality of life, not because the owner does not want better for the dog but because the dog just is not able to cope.

We want a dog to be a companion in all aspects of our lives not just at home when we are the only ones around.  Encourage the people you know to start training classes with their puppies no later than 10 weeks of age so they can greatly reduce the probability of this issue.  If they take your advice, you will be giving them an extremely valuable gift.

People = fun, treats and petting

peopleIdeally puppies are socialized to a ton of different people by 16 weeks of age.  This will reduce the probability of fear based issues with people later in life.  Daily field trips will give them the variety of exposure necessary during this critical period of life.  After 16 weeks of age, dogs need continued weekly socialization that extends through their 3rd year in life.  

Socialization is the process of exposing your dog to stimuli in a controlled manner while ensuring it has a positive experience.  If your door puppy wants to move away from something it is not sure about,  you let it!  If your dog does not want to approach something, you let it experience it stimuli at a distance.  You can use treats, praise, petting and play to make the experience fun and positive.  Here is a list of people a dog should experience to minimize the risk of having fear based issues with people.


Age                   Sex                                Appearance                                   Using
Infants              Male                              In uniforms (police, fire, mail)     A cane
Toddlers           Female                          Veterinarian                                   Walker
Children           Ethnicity                      Tall                                                   Wheel chair
Teenagers        Light skinned               Short                                               A jogging path
Adults               Medium skinned         Facial hair                                      A bike, skate board, etc.
Seniors             Dark skinned               Glasses, hats, costumes              Grocery Cart
Elderly                                                     Costumed                                      Outdoor equipment

Locations to find all these people

Wags Dog Emporium
The Healthy Pet
Down town mall
Your vet office
Hardware stores (Home Depot, Jerry’s, Lowes)
Shopping Malls
Your work
kids Sports games
Dog training class
Train Station
Hotel, Camp Ground

While visiting people in these different locations, you will simultaneously be exposing your dog to a lot of different environments, noises, smells and sights.  Remember, variety and a positive experience will reduce the probability of having issues later in life.  Make your dog’s social experience fun, varied and controlled.

Puppy Socialization

puppy socializationPuppy socialization is critical to ensure that puppies get quality social experiences.  Quality social experience at a young age helps to reduce the potential of fear based problems such as aggression.  The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior states in its position statement that “puppies can start socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age”.  Untrained puppies tend to loose their homes and are at greater risk of being “put down” as an adult dog due to behavior problems.

During puppy class, your puppy should be introduced to other safe puppies.  These need to be puppies that are healthy and not overly rough.  It will meet a variety of people men, women, hopefully children and people of different ethnic origin.  And it should have the option of checking out new things in the environment.  In addition, the training process should begin.  In this video you will see owners using a lot of treats as their puppy meets new things.  When you take your puppy or dog out for socialization you want to ensure it has a good time.  You can do this by rewarding your dog not only for being good but also as it interacts with its environment.  As you go about this process, protect your puppy form anything that might be scary.  If your puppy wants to move away from something, let it.  When the puppy decides it is far enough away, feed your puppy treats and let it check out the “scary monster” from a distance.  Over time, your puppy will naturally move closer to get a better look.

Puppy Socialization

At The Well-Mannered Dog, we now have 2 classes that help puppies socialize.  One is our group classes in which owners attend and learn along with their puppy.  The other is our Puppy play and train camp in which puppies are dropped off and I train the puppies while also socializing them and exercise them so they are tired.

Socialization – dogs, people and the environment

socializationTo avoid fear based aggression and anxiety issues owners need to socialize there dog to people of all descriptions, other dogs and things in the environment. Socialization is not something that should just be done with puppies. The social behavior of the dog does not plateau until 3 years of age and even after that behavior can change. Dogs require continued healthy exposure to friendly people, dogs and environments throughout their lives. Socialization is only for dogs that do not already have fear or anxiety issues. If your dog already has these issues it will need a desensitization program instead.

Socialization with People

Because social problems directed towards people presents owners with the highest liability and puts the dog’s life at a greater risk it is imperative that socialization to people is each owners highest priority. When Dr. Ian Dunbar first popularized puppy socialization classes he had 3 main goals. Dr. Dunbar’s first goal was to socialize puppies with a vast number of people. Dr. Dunbar’s second goal was to teach bite inhibition so when dogs did bite they did less damage and lastly, Dr. Dunbar wanted to socialize puppies with other dogs. It is a combination of happy friendly exposure to strangers and learning bite inhibition that minimizes an owner’s liability due to fear and anxiety issues directed towards people.

Most people do not consider the vast category of people their dog needs exposure to in order to not have fear and anxiety issues. To avoid fear and anxiety issues around people dogs need to be happy or relaxed around babies, toddlers, children of all ages, male and female adults, people with facial hair, elderly people, people who look, smell and act “different”. Because the social behavior of the dog does not plateau until 3 years of age, owners need to continue to introduce their dog to brand new people on a regular basis. Making sure all types of people are experienced.

Being “OK” around people is not good enough; we need dogs to be happy or relaxed. The dog that is “OK” can have its emotions swung in the wrong direction too easily. To facilitate socialization with people, owners should be armed with treats and when a stranger wants to interact, they should be given treats to feed the dog. If the dog is already relaxed or happy around people it will easily take treats from the stranger’s hand, but if the dog is not happy or relaxed the person will need to toss the treats to the dog.

Socialization with Dogs

socializationIn addition to being sociable with people, we also need our dogs to be sociable with other dogs. By introducing puppy play sessions into puppy socialization classes Dr. Dunbar killed two birds with one stone. Through play and biting other dogs, puppies learn bite inhibition. A dog that learns to inhibit its bite will do less damage when it bites. It also gave puppies socialization with other dogs. But to be successful, socialization with other dogs must take play styles and confidence of each dog into consideration. If they are not a good match, one or both of the dogs will become afraid or upset resulting in social issues for either of the dogs.

The mistake owners make in socializing their dog with other dogs is they let their dog play with any dog that comes along. Our dogs should have opportunities to play with a lot of other dogs, but it cannot be just any dog that comes along. Some dogs really enjoy rough and tumble play, but for other dogs that type of play will crush all confidence the dog has and cause the dog to be fearful and then aggressive. To get a good play match for your dog, ask questions. Find out when another dog is introduced on leash to other dogs what it does behaviorally. Does it stand stiffly, sniff, or play immediately. When it does play, does it prefer chase games or wrestling games? If it likes to wrestle is it gentle or rough and tumble? Only if the play and confidence style of both dogs match up should a play session take place.

Not all dog-to-dog interactions should result in play. As a matter of fact you don’t want your dog to think, every dog on earth is here to be played with. As you walk down the street and you are passing another dog, stop with your dog off to the side and let the other dog pass. You might need to give your dog a lot of treats as they pass to get your dog to sit beside you. If the other owner stops and wants the dogs to interact, first find out whether the dogs play and confidence style is a match and then only if your dog is calm and sitting beside you should you let the dogs interact.

Socialization with the environment

Although socializing a dog to other dogs and people is a high priority dogs also need to be socialized with a vast number of sights and sounds within the environment. To be behaviorally healthy, dogs need to experience normal environmental stimuli without becoming fearful. Dogs need exposure to all types of vehicles, different floor or ground type surfaces, a vast array of sounds and simply all the weird looking things to be found out in the world. A lack of exposure to environmental stimuli can cause dogs to panic and try to escape. This is one of the reasons why the Jan 2 and July 5 are the busiest days of the year for animal shelters.

So, how do you go about the process of safely socializing your dog or puppy to other dogs, people and new environments? The easiest way to do this is to take your dog out with you. Take your dog on walks making sure you include routes that have schools and parks, go on hikes, you’re your dog while your run errands, go to training classes and arrange for play dates with other well suited dogs. In addition you can go sit outside a school or at the park, When you are out with your dog have treats on hand. If a person wants to pet your dog, hand the person treats and let them feed your dog. If your dog is afraid then have them toss food to your dog instead of trying to hand the food to your dog. When you are out walking, stop every once in a while and just let your dog check out things in the environment. And when you come across dogs, check to see if their confidence and play style matches your dog’s before they interact. If under any of these circumstances your dog is hesitant or fearful, increase the distance between your dog and what it is afraid of, be happy and give your dog treats. If the problem continues, then check with a trainer for some specialized training.

Having a socially well adjusted dog that can relax in different environments, around all kinds of people and dogs gives owners a lot more options with their dog and makes owning a dog a lot more fun. As owners we just need to remember to take our dogs with us, to be aware of what is going on in the environment and how our dogs are reacting so we help them when they need it. Above all dog owners need to remember that behavior is always changing and to socialize their dogs through out their lives instead of just as puppies.

Doggie meet Kitty

dog-and-catIntroducing doggie and kitty to each other can be stressful. We know most cats will not appreciate what a dog has to bring to the game and cats have some mighty impressive weapons that can cause damage to dogs and people, so we need to proceed with caution.

The following instructions are only intended for dogs that do not have a history of doing damage to cats. They may be dogs completely lacking in experience, dogs that have chased, curiously sniffed or gently played with cats, but they display no predatory behavior to them. Even under these circumstances the introduction can be stressful.

Because these introductions can be stressful, you want to take it slowly. The process should not be a single event, but an event that occurs each day over a period of time. You want to think about it as a training opportunity for both the doggie and the kitty with a safety net in place.

You will need to protect both animals from possible injuries during the introductory period. For safety the dog will be on leash with a capable person handling it and the kitty will have its front claws trimmed.

Now that you have taken steps to protect the animals from harm you can set up the training environment. You need two people (one handling each animal), extra delicious treats for each animal, and a space that allows the animals to be in sight of each other but is large enough for the animals to relax. The kitty will be brought into the room first, and be on the end of the room that the dog will not be entering or exiting from. If the cat will relax quicker by being on a perch, make sure that is in place before you begin training.

Once the room has been set up, take the kitty into the room. Settle it in its spot and start giving it a deep relaxing massage. You want to get the cat relaxed. Once the cat is relaxed bring the dog in on leash, entering from the far side of the room and staying on that side. Each time either the dog or cat looks at the other animal, quietly cheer and give it a tasty treat. When they are not looking at the other animal, then give them a deep relaxing massage. If either animal cannot relax in the presence of the other you will need to increase the distance between the animals and may need to seek professional help. Your first training session should last no longer than 5 minutes. When the 5 minutes are up, remove the dog from the room and let the cat check out where the dog used to be. After the cat leaves the room, let the dog in to check out where the cat has been. You can have multiple training sessions in a day as long as there is a three-hour break between sessions.

Regardless of how long your training sessions are you will want 2 training sessions in a row in which both animals are completely relaxed before you make the training more advanced. Once you have two sessions in which both animals are relaxed you can have the animals a little closer. You will systematically over time decrease the distance between the animals, keeping in mind you need both animals to be relaxed. When it comes time for contact, sniffing is appropriate, but pawing, scratching, barking, hissing and biting means you took the process too fast.

Dog Meet Dog

socializationThe following instructions on introducing two two dogs is only intended for dogs that do not have a history of aggression, rough treatment or high arousal with other dogs. They may be dogs completely lacking in experience, dogs that have curiously sniffed or gently played with other dogs in the past, but they have not been aggressive to other dogs. Even under these circumstances the introduction can be stressful.

Ideally the first introduction takes place outside on neutral territory. Have both dogs on leash. Each person handling a dog should have really tasty treats on them so they can reward each dog for calm behavior. Start with the dogs about 50 feet apart. Walk the dogs in the same direction, parallel to each other. The dogs can have treats as they walk. If you run out of space, turn and go the other direction, just make sure both dogs are walking in the same directions. If either dog is pulling towards the other dog, barking or not behaving in a calm fashion, increase the distance between the two dogs until you have found the distance both dogs can walk calmly. Once both dogs walk calmly for about 100feet decrease the distance between the two dogs by 2-5 feet. Continue this process of increasing distance when the dogs are overly excited and decreasing the distance when they are calm until the dogs are walking side by side.

Once you have the dogs walking side by side, have one dog walk in front to the other. Let the dog that is behind go up for a butt sniff but keep both dogs walking. Then switch which dog is in front and which dog is in back getting to sniff.

At this point you can probably let the dogs sniff play and interact more normally but be careful. Make sure there is not food, bones or toys available that either dog would be likely to fight over.

Sociable Behavior

socializationSociable: marked by or conducive to friendliness or pleasant social relations – Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.

The goal is to have a dog’s social behavior be such that it would be welcome anywhere. Sociable dogs are willing to go up to people and other dogs when invited but they also have enough calmness that everyone in the environment is comfortable with their presence. These dogs land in the middle of the sociability spectrum. On one far end of the spectrum we have dogs that are fearful or aggressive (unfriendly behavior) and on the other end of the spectrum we have dogs that are overly friendly to the point of rudeness. Neither end of the spectrum is sociable. In the middle of the spectrum is a dog that is calm but willing to interact with other people and dogs. It is this middle part of the social spectrum that owners want to shoot for in the socialization of their dog. Many dog’s sociability lies on just either side of the middle of the sociable spectrum where they are not really relaxed but can become relaxed with time. These dogs may not be a “problem” but behavior is not stagnant so they are at risk of developing problems.


The critical socialization period of the dog is between 8 and 16 weeks of age but socialization does not end there. The social behavior of the dog does not plateau until 3 years of age. Socialization must continue well into adulthood. Dogs and puppies need to interact (not necessarily play) with dogs that will not hurt them or destroy their confidence and they need safe exposure to a large variety of dogs (dog that are bigger, smaller and noisy) people, environments and noises.

To help owners to adequately socialize dogs of all ages The Well-Mannered Dogs classes teach controlled socialization regardless of the age of the dog but the socialization process is very controlled so all dogs receive a positive, safe experience. While in class, owners learn how to properly socialize their dog to strangers, novel objects, and dogs they do not know as well as how to other social experiences. In addition it is important that dogs learn to follow commands even when they are in the middle of playing with other dogs. This prevents them from becoming overly excited (which can lead to social issues).

Some dogs need more than basic socialization, they already have some serious issues. They may bark fearfully, bite or display some type of agonistic behavior (growl, snap, lung in a non-playful fashion, bite or fight). Dogs that are really challenged and become fearful, aggressive or just extremely stressed when around new dogs or people need some specialty training.   These dogs need remedial training which involves an even more controlled environment and they need a training program that uses desensitization, counter conditioning and classical conditioning to change the dog’s emotions to relaxation or happiness.