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?

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.

Tiny Tails Playgroup for Small Dogs & Puppies

Is your dog in need of some exercise and playtime but it’s just too cold IMAG0369 - Copyoutside? Join us for our Tiny Tails Small Dog Playgroup! This playgroup is for dogs and puppies under 20lbs who enjoy the company of other dogs or are fearful (non-aggressive) and in need of socialization.

When: First and Third Thursday of each month at 6pm

Where: For Pet’s Sake in Blaine, MN.

RSVP: Registration Required (see below)

  • ONLY $5/dog for 45 minutes of play!
  • This playgroup provides a structured environment run by certified dog trainers which means we provide a healthy socialization environment. This makes playgroup great for shy dogs who need to build some confidence either with other dogs or with new people.
  • All dogs and puppies should have age appropriate vaccinations for Distemper/Parvo and Rabies (if over 4 mo.). Bordetella is highly recommended, but not required.
  • The weight limit is 20lbs, but we do on occasion accept dogs over 20lbs who are gentle and appropriate with small dogs (please contact us before attending playgroup).

All dogs must have a Registration & Waiver Form completed prior to attending your first playgroup. Reservations are required for playgroup, don’t forget to reserve your spot.

Click here to register for playgroup now.

Winter Grooming: Important Tips

Many people decide to let their dog’s fur grow long in the colder months, and opt to not give baths because it is cold outside. But, imagine if you stopped showering and getting haircuts for the four, sometimes five months of our Minnesota winter. You probably wouldn’t feel too great, and your dog probably won’t either!

Dogs of all fur types still need a certain amount of grooming all winter. Wet fur SSPX5395from playing in the snow causes a greater risk of mats and walks in the dirty snow along streets and sometimes mud when the snow melts, will build up dirt in your dog’s coat. Regular brushing year-round helps to remove dead hair and skin, distribute natural oils that keep your dog’s coat healthy, and also acts as an opportunity to check over your dog for bumps, cuts, mats, fleas, and anything else that may cause a concern about your dog’s health. Regular baths year-round are also recommended to keep your dog’s coat in tip top shape, you just need to be sure your dog is completely dry before going outside. Simply let your dog out to potty right before a bath to avoid any conflicts of a wet dog that needs to pee. If your dog is otherwise clean, but is getting a little smelly, a good option to avoid a wet dog is to use a dry shampoo.

Dogs that normally get their hair cut every 6 weeks or so during the warm months like poodles and many breeds of terriers should still be properly groomed in the winter. You may choose to keep your dog’s coat longer to keep him warmer, but regular grooming is even more necessary with a long coat, so even if you skip the cut, you should still bring your dog in for a bath, brush and blow dry, or you may end up with a badly matted and uncomfortable dog come spring, and you may need to fully shave your adorably fluffy dog!

In addition to taking care of your dog’s coat, pay attention to their feet. To keep your dog’s pads from cracking in the cold weather, dry them off every time they come inside, and moisturize them regularly with a paw protection wax. Dog’s nails also need to be trimmed more often due to being inside more and not having as many opportunities to wear down their nails. Clipping the long hairs between your dog’s toes can help prevent matting, and also prevents ice balls from forming. Taking the extra time to groom your dog during the busy holiday season may feel like a burden. To make it feel less time-consuming, schedule a 5 minute grooming session at each meal, rather than taking a half-hour or hour each week. Avoiding cracked paws and matted coats—or worse, a shaved dog in the middle of winter—is worth the effort.

Written By: Jessi Weaver