Puppy Socialization

The KEY to a Well Mannered Companion

When it comes to socialization, it’s important to be sure all interactions that your puppy has with the world around him are well thought out so that the puppy sees the experience as a GOOD experience. EXPOSURE to all the things in the socialization checklist below is NOT ENOUGH. It must be a positive exposure.

Socialization is not just about meeting other dogs and people. It is also about experiencing different places and novel objects and new sights and sounds. From approximately 6-16 weeks your puppy is most open to new experiences, so this is the ideal time to socialize. It is very important that your puppy always sees their experience with new things as positive. If they have a negative experience and you do not revisit the issue and fix it, they could end up being fearful for life.


#1 Priority – People Socialization

Aggressive behavior toward people is a behavior problem that has a high likelihood of ending in euthanasia because it is quite difficult to manage a dog with this issue since people are everywhere. Prevention is Key!

Are either of these puppies above having a POSITIVE social experience? The people appear to be, but neither puppy appears happy. Puppy on the left appears very tolerant of the experience and is likely having a neutral socialization experience at the moment the photo was taken. Puppy on the right appears a bit more uncomfortable with the interaction indicated by wide eyes and it appears he is pulling away. This would be considered a neutral or potentially negative socialization experience.

Look at the difference in expression here. Dog A is having a positive experience, dog B appears more worried.


Does the puppy above appear to be having a POSITIVE socialization experience, or perhaps more of a neutral or potentially even mildly negative experience? Do you see happiness?

Above both dogs have ears back and squinty eyes, but the body position is very different as is the mouth. Dog A appears to be crouching and has a tightly closed mouth with a tongue flick (which is often an indication of stress), where dog B is upright and has an open relaxed mouth. Notice how dog A is being greeted by top of the head petting (which is not a great way to greet an unknown dog), while dog B shows the humans hand near chest level.

These puppies appear to be having a positive socialization experience. They are engaging voluntarily with tails wagging and no hesitation or backing away.

Submissive Body Language

Typically when a dog rolls over like the photo below with tail slightly tucked and eyes squinty, they are feeling a bit uneasy and behaving submissively. When feeling submissive, they aren’t having a positive socialization experience. If this happens, try to help the person greeting your dog become less obtrusive by sitting down in a chair or kneeling on the ground.



Handling Fearful Reactions

If you notice any amount of hesitation from your puppy when introducing him to something new, it is important to make note of the worry and either address it now, or set up other socialization opportunities to overcome the fear in a controlled environment.

  • You may act excitedly, encourage your puppy to play, and/or give your puppy treats near the new thing.
  • You may also touch or interact with the feared item, person or dog to help show them you are not afraid of it.
  • There may be times when you may need to create additional space between your puppy and the feared object (as much space as is necessary to make your puppy feel comfortable enough to eat treats, relax and play).
  • Always keep it fun and pleasant.
  • Be careful of coddling your puppy. While picking up your puppy is a good way to quickly remove them from a negative social experience, it’s important to not reinforce in your pups mind that there was something to be afraid of by getting emotional yourself. Keep things fun and happy, even when things go awry.
  • If you are unable to help your puppy through a particular fear at the moment, be sure to make note of the fear and remember to come back and address the fear in a controlled situation.

Dog to Dog Socialization

Even though watching puppies play together is a lot of fun, the best thing you can do for your dogs socialization is start by having your dog meet well mannered adult dogs. Some may be playful, others a bit old and grouchy and that is a good thing! This is where your dog will learn about social cues that most other puppies don’t yet understand. They will learn what it looks like when another dog wants to play and what it looks like when they don’t as well. They will learn what a growl means (please go away – growling is communication, not a bad thing), what stiff body language means, what a hard stare means, what ignoring them means, what play gestures look like etc. Instead of trying to meet a bunch of other puppies or young dogs, you are better off trying to meet a variety of well mannered adult dogs and only a few puppies.

The most important thing when it comes to socializing your puppy is making sure that the interactions they are having at the moment don’t become too much for them. If you see your puppy becoming overwhelmed, have them take a break before it gets out of control and before they become afraid. Just like with people, it is important that they have POSITIVE social experiences.

Click here to check out our blog on Dog to Dog Play and Dog Parks

Socialization to Novel Objects

There are many different objects that your puppy will experience throughout it’s life and there is no way you could expose your dog to all of them, BUT that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Allow your puppy to interact with as many novel objects as possible, especially large objects. When out on walks something as simple as a garbage can at the end of the driveway can trigger a fearful reaction or holiday decorations that weren’t there yesterday. Do your best to show your puppy all kinds of crazy objects while you are out and about on your social excursions and while at home as well.

Socialization to New Places


Taking your puppy to new places is a huge part of a socialization program. Any place you can envision your puppy may go throughout it’s life should be somewhere they visit as puppies. If you want to be able to travel with your puppy and you live in the suburbs or country, visit busy cities so your pup can adapt to all the noise and the higher number of people. Be careful not to overwhelm your puppy though. Start in a quieter part of the city (perhaps a city park) and work your way toward walking down the sidewalks. Don’t stop at one experience in the city. With such a challenging social experience, it often takes multiple (3-5 or more) exposures before your puppy will feel comfortable in that environment.

Socialization to a Variety of Sounds

Thunder phobia is very common. Hopefully you have your pup during a time of year that they will experience thunder, but if not, you can also buy a sound CD or download storm sounds to play for them. Start it quiet and slowly increase the volume. I find it best to play with your puppy during storms so they see storms as a fun experience. It’s also often a good idea to bring your puppy outside for some playtime while the thunder rolls in the distance before the storm actually arrives. Each time the thunder booms, get excited and let your puppy know that you think thunder is fun!

Other sounds that may startle your puppy or create noise phobias in the future include loud beeping (like from a smoke alarm), gunfire and high winds. It’s also a great idea to expose your puppy to the noises that playing children make. You can do this by sitting near where children play with your puppy, but far enough away that they won’t come to overwhelm him. More than 1 or 2 children, especially loud children will most certainly overwhelm most puppies.

Quality vs. Quantity


This puppy is clearly enjoying her play interaction with what might otherwise be a big intimidating person.

Even though it’s important for your puppy to meet as many new people and dogs as possible during their socialization period, quality of the interactions is far more important than the quantity. 5 excellent experiences can do more for your puppy than 100 neutral or potentially negative experiences.

It’s important to keep in mind that puppies that are at all uneasy with a new person, dog or situation need more time in that situation. This means that a fearful puppy quickly sniffing a person as they walk by is NOT a good enough socialization experience. The puppy needs enough time to really enjoy that person. For some puppies that may be 10 seconds, for others it will be several minutes or longer.

Fears Can Spiral Out Of Control

Fears have a way of spiraling out of control. One fear can turn into multiple fears very quickly due to the effect of association. When a dog experiences fear of a novel object and at the same time a garbage truck goes by when his fear response is hightened, suddenly you have a puppy who is afraid of the novel object AND the garbage truck. The same thing can happen if a puppy is afraid of a new place and when in that fear state, we allow people to greet him (before he has a solid positive association with people). For this reason, it is important to try to keep the number of potentially feaful stimuli to a minimum. If your puppy is nervous in a new place, seek a quieter area of that new place and feed treats, play etc. Protect your puppy from additional potentially fearful stimuli (including people, dogs and novel objects).

When your puppy is fearful, instead of walking around a new place, find a quiet spot and sit there for a while until your puppy is clearly eager to begin exploring.

Socialization Checklist

Use the checklist below to be sure you are exposing your dog to as many things as you expect they might encounter in their lives as possible.


So remember, exposure to new things, people and dogs is NOT enough. It must be POSITIVE EXPOSURE!


Curbing Counter Surfing

Has your dog ever jumped up on the counter and stolen a snack or two? This behavior is easily created (simply by leaving food out), but a bit harder to curb! You see, dogs do what works! So when they successfully steal a tasty treat off the counter a few times, you bet they are going to continue trying!

So what do we do?



Photo from: louisesdogblog.wordpress.com


First things first. Prevention is important!

Prevention tip #1: Try not to leave anything out on the counter unattended. I know this is easier said than done, but it makes a big difference!

Prevention tip #2: A dog that isn’t in the kitchen, can’t counter surf! By teaching your dog that the kitchen area is off limits, you will greatly reduce if not eliminate the counter surfing issue. Depending on how your home is set up, you may choose to have the kitchen entirely off limits, or maybe the dog is only allowed in upon invitation (for example if they need to go through the kitchen area to go outside). Teaching an “Out” command is very helpful!

What if prevention fails?

Well, it’s up to us to set our dogs up for success, so as much as possible, we want to prevent the behavior from being a possibility. But, when life happens and prevention fails, we need to help our dogs understand that jumping up on the counter is NOT rewarding. They have already learned that the opposite is true (goodies are up there), so we need to focus on re-training them. This means that you need to provide an appropriate consequence for counter surfing when there is inevitably something on the counter. For most dogs, a great consequence for counter surfing is a time out. Dog jumps on counter, you say “Ah, Ah!” and immediately remove your dog from the counter and put him in a time out behind a nearby closed door for 15-30 seconds. What you are effectively telling your dog is that if you jump up on the counter, you will be immediately removed from the room, the goodies, and any social interaction.

But my dog only does it when I’m not looking (or not home)…

If your dog is only counter surfing when you aren’t in the room, I recommend setting up a sting operation. Through strategically placed mirrors or even two phones (tablets etc) on Skype, you need to set up a way to see the dog when he doesn’t think you can. Then once he jumps up on the counter, you immediately from the next room say “Ah, Ah!” and come to provide the time-out. He will learn that even if he thinks you couldn’t possibly see him, the consequences still happen. The same goes for if you dog complies with the out of the kitchen rule when you are in eyesight, but sneaks in when he thinks you can’t see him.

If your dog is only counter surfing when you aren’t home, prevention is easy! Crate your dog, confine him to another room, gate off the kitchen, don’t leave anything out etc. You could mess with scat mats or remote collars with boundary pucks, but why resort to shocking your dog (and risking injury when you aren’t home) when management is so simple?

Understanding Your Anxious Dog

Anxiety in dogs seems to be more and more common these days. That likely has something to do with the increased pace of our lives (meaning less exercise/interaction for your canine) and the increase in rules & confinement (often creating more mental frustration & a lack of social interaction). The world is also busier than ever meaning that dogs need to learn to acclimate to A LOT! Some dogs can do this easily, while others struggle greatly.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to help your anxious dog, and the first of those things is truly understanding them. Anxiety creates many behavior problems, so understanding where the behaviors are coming from and how to alleviate that anxiety will help your canine not only feel better but behave better too!


Lucky Paws Board & Train dog Finnegan. Finn struggled with anxiety related behavior problems, but she is now in a much better place due to behavior modification, training, management and the help of behavioral medicine.

What is anxiety?

If you were to pull out a dictionary, it would read something like…

Anxiety: distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune OR a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, often with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.

This means that an anxious dog suffers from an uneasy mind. They are often excessively worried about what might happen and often have reactions to things that frighten them that are not proportionate to the stimuli (similar to a panic attack). Most anxious dogs have increased sensitivity to environmental stimuli, an exaggerated startle response, hyper-vigilance, and long recovery after arousing events.

The difference between a “normal” dog and an anxious dog:

When a “normal” dog is confronted by something it doesn’t understand (hasn’t seen before, considers it may be threatening), you may see a small amount of wariness in the body language (moving slowly, lowering head, moving away slowly), but after a few moments of evaluating the situation, curiosity typically kicks in and the dog begins using his senses to investigate (assuming the thing it didn’t understand was not actually something threatening).

When an anxious dog is confronted with the same situation, there is an exaggerated startle response. The dog may physically jump back or run away, bark at the trigger and generally exaggerate the level of threat. Many anxious dogs will either take much longer to get to the point of evaluating the situation, or skip it entirely and just run away to avoid the situation. Anxious dogs generally take quite some time to fully recover from a stressful event, sometimes taking several hours (and even occasionally days) after a stressful event.

Similarly, anxious dogs are often on edge. They are hyper-vigilant, constantly scanning their environment on the lookout for something scary. The world is a continuous stream of unknowns, so when outside of their safe zone (their crate, your home etc), they are constantly scanning the horizon for the next scary thing. This makes things like walks, and field trips to the park scary events. Some dogs may decide they no longer enjoy walks or trips to the park, but many are conflicted because they enjoy being at the park or they enjoy sniffing things on the walk, so they get excited to go on the walk, even though it tends to be a fairly stressful experience for them.

Anxious dogs tend to learn at a normal level in quiet environments but really struggle to learn and comply with commands they know in busier environments, or environments with a lot of stimuli.

To an anxious dog, the world is often at least a little overwhelming (sometimes incredibly overwhelming). To an anxious dog, a quiet yard can resemble a busy amusement park but instead of everything looking fun and exciting, it’s quite overwhelming and often scary. Remember that dogs have much better hearing and smelling abilities than people, so where we may see or hear nothing, they see and hear a lot!

Helping Your Anxious Dog

Once you understand your anxious
dog and how they see the world, helping them becomes easier. We can control how we expose them to the frightening stimuli so that they can learn not only to feel more at ease in their world, but also to trust our judgement which makes them feel safer.

Use Counter Conditioning

Counter conditioning involves pairing the scary stimuli with something the dog loves (play, affection, high value food rewards etc). When you come across something that frightens your dog, begin praising your dog and even stop to feed him a few treats or play. We want him to think that great things happen when the scary thing happens. Over time, he will begin to like the scary thing because it brings great things! That means, it will no longer be a scary thing!

What to do when your dog has a strong reaction to a trigger (barking, running away etc.)

First you need to stop the reaction as quickly as possible to avoid a huge spike in stress hormones which makes it more difficult to come back down from the fear. Immediately moving the dog away from the trigger to a place where he can actually think and evaluate the situation is helpful. Once you find the location where the dog can function, try to regain the dog’s attention and use food, praise and play (counter conditioning) to get the dog in a better state of mind. Getting your dog into a better state of mind is important. We need to give your dog’s brain the ability to slow down enough to evaluate the situation instead of just immediately reacting to something he doesn’t understand.

Here are a few Dos & Don’ts for helping your anxious dog.

Refrain from harsh discipline: This doesn’t mean you never correct your dog, it only means that you control the level of the correction, especially in the presence of scary stimuli. Any time your dog is around something that makes him uncomfortable, you want to be positive. Fear and anxiety are emotions your dog doesn’t have much control over. Harsh punishment can actually increase anxiety and damage your relationship with your dog.

Change the way you console your dog: Instead of trying to soothe your dog’s anxiety by picking them up, petting them and saying “Your ok…” in a quiet manner, try to change his state of mind by making things fun. Condition him to feel happy in the presence of things that produce anxiety by pairing scary stimuli with fun. This of course needs to happen at a distance that is not too overwhelming for your dog.

Avoid the fearful stimulus when you aren’t able to work on counter conditioning: This doesn’t mean avoid it entirely. If you do, your dog will never learn to feel more comfortable when confronted by things he is fearful of. Only avoid when you are unable to work on counter conditioning. We don’t want to ingrain the fear any more than it already is.

Take the time to learn your dog’s body language: Being able to read your dog and recognize anxiety quickly is a very important part of the rehabilitation process.

Be a good leader your dog can trust: Take the time to counter condition your dog. Teach him that he can trust you to evaluate the situation and get him to a place where he can feel comfortable every time. When he learns to trust you, he will have more confidence to try
situations he may have otherwise not been comfortable with because he trusts you are there to help him through it.

Check your behavior and emotions: Dogs are very good at picking up on human emotions and can sense any stress or anxiety you may be feeling. Not surprisingly, many anxious dogs have anxious owners. Tackling your own stress and anxiety and being confident for your dog makes a world of difference. Anxious dogs are more likely to be able to feel comfortable in their world if they are confident that if anything does come up that is scary, you will handle it. You need to teach your dog they can trust you by immediately taking action when something frightens them, first getting them feeling safe, then following that by helping them adapt and learn about the thing that made them fearful. Soon they will begin to want to investigate things they don’t understand instead of feeling fear and anxiety.

Provide your dog with a routine life: Anxious dogs function best with a routine. They like to know as much as possible what is going to happen next.

Provide lots of physical and mental exercise: Physical and mental exercise boost serotonin levels naturally. Serotonin is a feel good chemical that is depleted when stressful events happen. The less serotonin there is in your dog’s system, the weaker his ability to cope with stress.

Teach your dog that paying attention to you is great: If you have your dog’s attention, they are more likely to be able to listen to commands in stressful environments. Keeping their attention is the key to success. This means that anxious dogs often rely on rewards in stimuli rich environments for much longer than your average dog.

Additional Helpful Tools:

Natural Calming Remedies: Pet stores sell many herbal supplements for anxiety. This is a great place to start before resorting to prescription medication (which can be a great option for some dogs). Be sure to consult your vet before choosing a remedy, especially if your dog is on any medication.

Comfort Zone Plug-In: This releases something that mimics a mother’s natural pheromones which helps to relax your dog. This can be great in conjunction with other calming remedies.

Pheromone Collar: Similar to the plug-in, this is a collar that helps relax your dog. This is great for dogs who are anxious outside of the house.

Thundershirt: Anxiety wraps use pressure to calm your dog.

Need Training Help?

Need some help with teaching your dog to cope better with their anxiety? We can help! Give us a call (612-388-9656) or send us an email (heather@luckypawsmn.com) anytime!



Doggie Easter Egg Hunt

Easter is just a few weeks away, so we thought we would share with you a fun Easter activity for your dog (and your kids too). If your dog knows the Find It game, this will be a very easy game for your dog to pick up on! If not, below are some simple steps for a successful Easter egg hunt with your canine!

Step 1: Gather up a bunch of plastic Easter eggs and place some smelly treats inside (or have your kids do this).

Step 2: Give your dog a couple eggs and see if they can figure out how to open them (some eggs are easier than others). If it seems too challenging for them, you can always leave the eggs partially open when it comes time to hide them.

Step 3: Place your dog outside or in another room while you (or your kids) hide the eggs. For dogs seasoned in the Find It game, you can make your hiding spots more challenging. For dogs new to this sort of game, make the eggs pretty easy to find.

Step 4: Release your dog from the other room and encourage them to find the eggs! Novice dogs may need some help or encouragement, while seasoned Find It dogs will know exactly what to do!

Here is a Youtube video of a doggie Easter egg hunt!

Boundary Training: Out

Boundary training is something that can make life with your dog muchClicker Training Your Dog easier! The “Out” command allows you to give your dog the cue to leave a particular room or stay out of a room.

Situations where this command is useful:

  • Painting a room – no need to put up the gate, close the door or worry about your dog tracking paint all over the house.
  • Keeping your dog out of the kitchen while you are cooking.
  • Rather not have your dog watch you while you shower? You can teach your dog to stay out of the bathroom.


Teaching the command “Out”

Choose a room that you would like to be able to send your dog out of such as a kitchen, bathroom, or dining area. Just as your dog tries to enter that area, say “Out” while extending your pointed finger in the direction you want the dog to go, and quickly and assertively move into the dogs space, using your body language to push him/her out of the room.

  • Be sure you are standing up straight and portraying confidence both in your body language and tone of voice.
  • You may need to shuffle your feet into the dog or use your knees to push the dog (pressure, not a kick with the knee).
  • Do your best to not grab the collar of the dog, let your body language do the work. Once the dog moves out of the space,  it is important to move away and remove body pressure.
  • You will likely need to do this a dozen times or more before the dog begins to understand what you are asking.
  • If your dog continues to come immediately back into the room, it can often be helpful to hold your ground at the threshold (the doorway or entrance to the room) a bit longer until the dog seems to relax or loose interest a bit.
  • Some dogs will require more persistence than others so keep at it, even if the progress is slow.

“Can I Pet Your Puppy?”


Ryder at 10 weeks

Not many people realize that there are some dogs who truly do not want to be pet. Just like people, some dogs are either uncomfortable with strangers touching them, or just don’t like it. Did you know that even a puppy sometimes would rather not be pet? Yes, that sweet cuddly puppy that you just want to pick up and cuddle, may actually prefer that you don’t!

My dog Ryder has always been one of those dogs. From the time he was a puppy, he was always a bit wary of people he didn’t know. Not hide behind my leg sort of wary, but rather pee submissively nearly every time someone he didn’t know tried to pet him kind of wary. As a dog owner, its embarrassing and frustrating to have a dog that pees every time someone wants to pet your adorably fluffy dog. As a puppy, its just simply frightening.

Not every dog or puppy wants to be pet and cuddled. Can you imagine groups of people surrounding YOU at the pet store. It’s like the paparazzi snapping photos, except they are touching you and picking you up. Small dogs and puppies have to tolerate this all the time and not every dog owner recognizes that this makes the dog uncomfortable until their sweet puppy starts growling or barking at people. What happened? He used to love being pet and picked up? Or did he?

Paying attention to your dogs body language is very important to his social health, not just in puppy hood but through adolescence and adulthood as well. Do you know how to tell if your dog is uncomfortable with being greeted? Here are a few behaviors that under the right circumstances may mean that your dog is uncomfortable.

  • Slight cowering/leaning away
  • Ears flattened or furrowed brow
  • Licking lips when no food is near by
  • Moving away or not approaching
  • Submissive peeing/rolling over submissively
  • Wide eyes/seeing whites of eye (aka: whale eye)

With Ryder, I had to put my embarrassment aside and become an advocate for my puppy because his fear was only getting worse. Since Ryder loved to play, we started bringing his ball everywhere we went. When someone asked to pet him, I’d explain that he is shy, but they could help him gain confidence by throwing his ball for him. Over time, Ryder came to anticipate that people meant it was time to play and he could trust that I wouldn’t let them invade his space. Ryder now accepts strangers and even allows petting too without peeing. Had I continued allowing people to pet him, Ryder may have resorted to saying “I don’t want to be pet” in a more firm manner which for a dog looks like growling, barking or even biting. Preventing aggression is much easier than treating it!

Check out this video, then watch your dog while they are greeting someone. What do you think? Do they REALLY want to be touched?

Do you have a shy or fearful dog or puppy? We can help your dog learn to feel comfortable with how humans like to greet dogs. Give us a call (612-388-9656) or send us an email to tell us about your dog.

Winter Dog & Puppy Training in Minneapolis, MN

Dog training is fun, but training your dog or puppy in the cold winter months can be a real bummer! Below are a few services we offer at Lucky Paws that make training your dog in the winter much easier AND several tips for training your dog at home too!

Dog Board & Train Program

Did you know Lucky Paws has two different programs where we do most of the training for you? We offer a Board & Train Program where your dog goes through training while staying in our trainers home in East Bethel, MN.

In Home Dog Boot Camp

Rather keep your dog at home? We also offer an In Home Boot Camp Program where a trainer comes to your home in the Minneapolis metro area and suburbs and trains your dog for you, all you need to do is follow through.

Both programs allow for much faster training success because training is done by a professional.

Group Dog & Puppy Classes

Group classes are another great way to train your dog in the winter as classes are held indoors. Winter is a great time to take classes with your dog to expend some physical and mental energy since exercise can be a little harder to come by when the weather is cold.

Train your Dog at Home

If you and your dog don’t mind the winter weather, here are a few tips to stay comfortable while you are training.

  • Have a pair of gloves specifically for dog training that you don’t mind if they get full of treat crumbs and slobber. They should be thin enough to easily grab and deliver treats, but warm enough to keep your fingers from freezing.
  • Try using a Lickety Stik for treats so you don’t need to fumble with treats while you are wearing gloves.
  • Use a waist leash so your hands can spend more time in your pockets.
  • Acclimate your dog to wearing a coat or sweater (and maybe even some booties).
  • Pick up some traction cleats to put over your boots so you are less likely to slip on ice.
  • Keep your dogs paws off salty sidewalks and roads. If that just isn’t possible in your area, be sure to wipe off your dogs feet after you return from the walk.