Puppy Socialization. One size does not fit all.

I recently read a blog that was railing against over socializing puppies. The author complained about people bringing puppies to play groups, to shopping centers, to dog parks… all things we’ve heard should be good for dogs.

While I disagree that you can “over socialize” a dog, I do think the use of common sense is necessary when bringing a new puppy into your life.


The premise of over socializing is that puppies are overwhelmed and become more timid than had they been able to avoid the entire situation. Also it was pointed out that a puppy should “never, ever, ever be brought to a dog park!”


Well, yes and no. I believe this may be true for some dogs, but definitely not all. Some puppies are outgoing and tenacious in spirit, where others are timid and wary of new situations. Like many things in life, common sense goes a long way and the same applies to your new puppy. While your new family member may be a wild and crazy guy at home, he may be very reserved in new situations. You need to gauge his or her socialization accordingly. Is he hanging back near you, looking for safety, or bounding forward wanting to play? Look at your puppies face. Are the ears forward and alert? Are his eyes gazing directly at the situation and is there a general look of anticipation? If yes, you have a puppy that is eager to engage. If you find his ears are back, his eyes are looking away and there is a general “worried” look about him, then the situation is too much for your puppy.


I’ve had both kinds of puppies in my life and I have to say that the timid puppy is much more work, but that is when socialization is extremely important. My boy was outgoing and playful with his sister at home and after a few weeks we took a walk to get some energy out. I live in an urban area with a bike path that runs behind my house. He met a very calm Collie and he sniffed the collie and SCREAMED bloody murder!! The Collie did nothing to provoke this reaction, but my puppy Ted was terrified. I knew immediately we needed to work on this so I began by seeking out a professional. We had a private session and with much effort and help on her part we began a campaign of socialization. However, this campaign did not consist of throwing him into playgroups. It was very controlled. He did play with puppies at a trial, but only calmer puppies and he was given the option of opting out. Some puppies he did not like, and other’s he did. I brought him near situations, but not into them. He was given treats and praise for being a brave puppy. We went into pet stores, but he wasn’t dragged down any isles. I picked him up if he seemed overwhelmed. When people wanted to pet him I gave them treats and explained he was extremely timid. I asked the to get down to his level and toss treats at him. In short, we went at his pace. I made a concerted effort to expose him slowly because his body language was very clear when he was feeling overwhelmed.


Now he is a well-adjusted young dog, but he still gets overwhelmed.  I watch him at the park and if one or more overly assertive dogs get in his face I can see the worry and fear he exhibits. I call him to me and we move on. Sometimes he’s not able and I will either ask the owner to get their dog or I will remove the dog myself and cheerfully take Teddy away. I do this in order to prevent Teddy from being in a situation where he is pushed past his limit. His limits are much shorter than other dogs but as he matures and with the help of others in his life we have a healthy, happy dog.


Now take his counterpoint Juno. When she got off the plane as a puppy, she marched through the airport like she owned it.  At 10 weeks I took her to see agility equipment. She took one look at the full height A-frame and to my horror, ran up it as if she had been doing it for years. At puppy play groups I had to pull her out and give her a time out because she was too much for most puppies.  In this case I was reading the other dogs, and seeing that my puppy was the problem child. Once her shots were done we did go to the dog park with Jack and Juno and she had a blast. I didn’t throw her into all of the adult dogs but our little pack played and she met other dogs who were interested and other young puppies as well. Phebe and Jack were also there to intervene if a dog gave Juno a cross look and between the three of us, her visits to the dog park were quite successful.


Both dogs were of the same breed, same age and yet they took situations completely differently. They will always approach new situations differently, it’s just who they are as dogs. Juno rushes up to everyone assuming they are her best friend, while Ted hangs back, not so sure of strangers. Once comfortable, he’s as happy go lucky as she is. So I disagree with the premise of “never, ever, ever taking a puppy to a dog park”. I also don’t believe in throwing a puppy into just any situation either. Use your common sense and watch your dog and I believe you will be successful. He will tell you what he wants to do and if he’s comfortable.


If you find your dog is overly timid, consult a professional and they can give you a great set of tools to socialize you new puppy. Always remember to listen to your dog and remember that no two puppies are alike. What may have been great for your first dog may not be at all appropriate for your new friend.


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