Frankie is fearful. This  apparently disturbs some people. Only this morning, a generally friendly guy (GFG) I often encounter on the trail expressed annoyance that Frankie stopped in his tracks when his (illegally for that area) off-leash dog passed us. “She didn’t even approach your dog,” GFG said, irritably. “I don’t know what he’s so afraid of.” GFG seemed to take it as a personal affront that Frankie didn’t automatically acknowledge his pup’s harmlessness.

Then there’s my well-intended regular dog-walking friend. He’s fond of Frankie but nevertheless feels compelled to apologize for his shyness when we stop to chat with other people.”He’s a rescue,” my friend often says, by way of explaining why Frankie isn’t as outgoing as his own gregarious fox terrier.

Don’t even get me started on the “He must have been abused” comments I get.

But no one ever says, “He must not have been properly socialized.” Which is the likeliest source of Frankie’s shrinking violet tendencies.

I work to make him as comfortable as possible and the little guy has a pretty happy life. But I’m fairly certain that, if he had been taught to associate new situations, people and dogs with positive things at a very early age, he would be a lot more confident now.

That’s why Ariana Kincaid’s Operation Socialization is so important. On this week’s Animal Cafe podcast, an interview with Kincaid by trainer Eric Goebelbecker — himself certified in the program — explains the latest thinking on this topic.

There are still many breeders and veterinarians who warn against socializing puppies too early for fear of disease. But, as Kincaid notes, behavioral problems that cause dogs to be given to shelters and, often, euthanized, are a lot more detrimental to their well- being than potential illnesses.

She  explains on her site:

Taking advantage of your puppy’s early development is critical. This is when he’s at his most receptive; open and pliable. Make sure he has as many positive experiences out in the world during this time so he’ll grow up to be easygoing and friendly. If you wait, your puppy’s “internal timer,” the so-called socialization window, begins to close (around 12-16 weeks of age). After this, he’s genetically programmed to become more and more distrustful of new or unpleasant experiences.

One fun aspect of Operation Socialization is that it provides a network of places where owners who take part in the program can get their “socialization passports” stamped, making the process into a kind of game — and making it easy to achieve goals. I remember reading socialization recommendations that involved inviting hat-wearing friends to ring your doorbell or getting people to pass a puppy around while eating pizza (the people, not the puppy). Maybe I have boring friends, but I thought at the time that I wouldn’t know enough people willing to do anything like that. A program like this makes it easy.

I have to admit, I can’t imagine getting a puppy.  The idea of adopting an older dog with a fully formed personality appeals to me far more. But, as much as I adore Frankie, next time I would hope that the dog’s personality might have been formed with the help of a great deal of socialization at an early age.

So if there might be a puppy in your future, head over to Animal Cafe and listen up!


Have you voted for me for Funniest Blogger on DogTimes Petties site yet — or yet today? Why not? The dogs and cats of the Southern Arizona Humane Society, to whom I will donate the $1000 if I win, are depending on you. (Yes, you’ve stepped outside the boundaries of the guilt-free zone here.)


27 thoughts on “Make Your Dog a Social Butterfly”

  1. Socialization is crucial. And I’m so thankful that we did the work with Honey that we did. She is so much better off for it. Thunderstorms, firecrackers, loud trucks etc. don’t faze her.

    But we need to remember that dogs, like people, have unique personalities. If Frankie had perfect socialization as a puppy, he still might not be the kind of bouncy pup who greets everyone happily.

    I’m discovering that on the continuum of shy to bold, Honey is definitely falling more on the shy side. Socialization made a big difference. But it’s not in her personality to be a brave explorer dog.

    Maybe someday we’ll all learn to accept dogs (and people) for who they are without always assuming they can be molded into some kind of ideal.

    BTW, I keep my feed reader full of the Animal Cafe broadcasts because they are such interesting topics. But listening is slower than reading and so I don’t get to them quickly. Is there any chance you’ll be able to offer transcripts in the future?

    1. You’re absolutely right; some dogs — like some people — are born with the shy gene. There’s always a personality continuum. And I have no idea about Frankie’s past; maybe his trauma came from being abandoned. He might have been a completely different dog as a puppy.

      What — you don’t have an I-pod to listen to the podcasts while you’re driving?! Seriously, we’d been thinking about transcripts. It’s time consuming but I think it’s a good idea. Thanks for bringing the topic up again.

  2. I had/have two puppies who were found alone in a field after flooding several years ago. We surmised they had been born into the wild and never socialized; they came to me at about 8 months old or a year: Chip and Monk. Chip finally went to a rescue in MN with a specialized foster for feral dogs. He was the more “social” of the two; still, I had to retrieve him from the vet kennel when he refused to allow anyone else near him.
    This year – he is now about 3 – Monk went to training, utterly shut down (frankly, the trainer over-faced him; I picked him back up within hours and was spitting mad: the trainer, because very shy Monk, in a totally new environment, did not respond to a leash correction, ALPHA rolled him! GRRRR) and brought him home; he then went to a wonderful foster home and escaped! I was able to find him thanks to the village of Cape Girardeau and Facebook. I knew he would only come to me and he did. Monk now lives at Silverwalk in sanctuary for the rest of his life – I think he knows it, too! Socialization is so important – more so than early formal training because it will help shape a dog for years. I agree with Pamela – dogs are themselves; some will be shy and others outgoing no matter their initial circumstances. I do stress to people that many rescue dogs are not abused per se but neglected or turned in for no reason on their part.
    BTW, I just, after two years, figured out how to use my iPod on my iPhone so can download the podcasts :).

    1. Ugh. Frankie had a similar experience with a group training class, though not quite as bad because there was no alpha roll. He “failed” because he did not respond to my jerks on his little choke chain — I cringe to think that I got one for him, though I kept losing it, so my subconscious knew better — and because he wouldn’t “stay” more than two or three feet from me; he was too stressed to respond to treats and wanted to stay glued to my side. I bought into the implication that there was something wrong with him. Now I know that there are just wrong caretakers for particular dogs, caretakers who don’t recognized their individuality.

      I have still to get an iPod/iPhone! Soon…

  3. Lily greyhound was a fearful dog as she aged but in the early years (I adopted her at 2 years 3 mos – mercifully she only raced 6 times) she was quite social with other dogs.

    When I adopted her Kate’s aging husky Bosco spent a lot of time at our house along with Painter, and Lily & Bosco were tight. They would sit on the same dog bed together.

    I took her to socialization classes at Handi-Dogs when I moved to Tucson. She was never social with other dogs the way Painter was.

    She was fine with people but more on a 1 to 1 not crowds but not ever with the dogs, not even other greyhounds. When I tried to foster, she terrorized them and nipped Jose and growled excessively at Louise.

    It was what it was. I couldn’t change her. She was one of a kind. They all are.

    1. Definitely recognizing a dog for his/her distinct personality is essential. You can try to make them happier and more comfortable but thinking you can make them different is about as futile as having someone try to change our personalities.

  4. Edie, I’ve had the same comments about Luna and Frisbee both! It’s so annoying! To hear others tell it, Luna has been drastically “abused” in her lifetime… when in fact, she was born at a rescue to a farm dog that was left on the rescue president’s doorstep. Luna was raised in a great household and socialized before I got her at 13 weeks and has never been abused… but some of her shyness and behaviors are possibly genetic/hereditary based on her mother’s behaviors. In any case, the other you get about Frankie apply, too.

    And as a trainer, I hate it when people won’t socialize their new puppy because the breeder and vet say they can’t be around other dogs until they’ve had their full series of shots–by then, they’re 16 weeks old! Ack! So I like the idea of Operation Socialization!

    Pamela, I just discovered your blog through your comments here–love it! And also agree on AC transcripts, although as Edie says, they’re very time-consuming to produce, and you don’t get all the nuances and background music/sounds.

    1. Everyone’s a dog psychologist! I have to bite my tongue when my friend explains that Frankie is a rescue, because it perpetuates the notion that rescue dogs are all damaged somehow. I know he’s just trying to help. And as you point out, you can know a dog’s background from puppyhood and treat her kindly and still get fearful behaviors.

      I’m glad you checked out Pamela’s blog. It’s always interesting and thought provoking — and fun.

  5. What a great program! And, SO important. As one who went into socialization overdrive with my fearful Sadie puppy, I have no doubt that we would be in deep doo-doo up to our floppy ears (Am I over identified with my dog or what?) if we had not made a huge socialization effort. Today, Sadie still has issues… But, my heart nearly burst when our Karen Pryor Academy instructor, Nan Arthur, said that it’s a testament to all our work that Sadie “looks” like a normal dog. And, indeed, most of the people in the class could not believe that Sadie is a fearful dog. Well, that was until she cut loose with some barking when someone approached her ex-pen a little too directly and swiftly. But, that situation was easily handled with a little counter-conditioning.

    I voted again for you. I so hope you win! I’ve bookmarked the Petties site.

    1. I know what you mean about feeling proud when your dog “passes”; Frankie always elicits smiles when he is trotting along happily behind me, ears flopping. It’s only when someone tries to approach us that the gig is up.

      You’ve worked hard with Sadie for a long time, and it sounds like you’re doing great with the Karen Pryor Academy classes — congratulations!

      And thank you very much for your vote — and vote of confidence.

      1. Yep. Not so different with Sadie. She does not like people in her face, so to speak. But, hey, neither do I.

        Here’s my variation on the “what-part-of -‘no’ -don’t-you-understand?” memo to humans: Do not approach the dog, let the dog approach you if she or he is so inclined. And, if she or he isn’t, don’t take it personally. Just take ‘no’ for an answer.”

        1. That would be a great t-shirt in some variation to put on a dog. Of course in Frankie’s case, you’d have to come pretty close to read it because he’s so small. 😉

  6. I can’t help but think of the Tyranny of the Extroverts when I read this.

    Along with the clear sense of male privileged shown when the guy has his dog off leash but feel offended when Frankie isn’t thrilled. *eye roll*

    Is it really not ok that some dogs just don’t care to socialize with every Tom, Dick and Spot that happens along? Why is that not ok? I mean it’s not like Frankie attacked the dog, he wasn’t aggressive, he just wasn’t sociable. Our Chloe, had an incident with a German Shepard a year or so ago. Since then we have worked on socialization because she shows interest in it. She is clearly shy, yet in her own way she shows that *she* wishes to approach a local friendly, not us pushing her to do it. Her, I socialize. Evie on the other hand, shows no interest in any dog except @Radar on Twitter. She is old enough, a middle aged dog, to make her own decisions about what she wants to do. She’s a lot more introverted than Chloe, not out of fear, it’s just her. She’s always been more standoffish. I live with these two dogs, I see their personality differences as clearly as you would two people. So, no, I just don’t buy this all dogs have to be friends kind of thing. I think our dogs are people too, so to speak- they are personalities that have their own right to exist on their terms.

    1. Yes, it’s interesting, I was going to bring up the gender issue. It’s always men who seem the most offended when Frankie shrinks back; I wrote about a similar encounter a while ago. And — while we’re stereotyping 😉 — it’s woman who go into the “abuse” mode.

      You’re right: The bottom line is that, once he bonded with me, Frankie has never shown any interest in socializing with another dog. I think I’ve seen him sniff another dog’s butt — oh-so-tentatively — maybe five times in the last 7 years, and only when the dog was standing still. Frankie and I walk a couple of times a week with an equally shy dog and it’s never a problem, though it’s happened that both dogs retreat from aggressive dogs at the same time and my friend and I have to scramble not to trip over them!

  7. When we got Koly we had no idea there even were different training styles and we completely lucked out that the training center on our s had a puppy party class that was fabulous for socialization. It is so important.

    Another thing a lot of owners don’t realize is that in dog language that “friendly” approach can actually be very pushy! It’s quite rude/challenging to just barge up to another dog. Staring right in their eyes and wagging their tail slowly is a really confrontational move! I find a lot of owners who are offended that others don’t take to their “friendly” dog don’t actually know how to read their dog’s body language and don’t realize their dog might be at the root of the problem.

    1. Good point! Owners who have a problem with another dog being less than enamored with their dog are just the ones who are unlikely to be unable to read body language.

      I’m glad you lucked out with Koly’s training center — its sounds perfect (unlike my little choke-chain wielding class).

  8. Our Best Friend was clearly not socialized as a puppy, and is still uncomfortable around dogs who are overly-friendly. He has no idea how to read social cues, and often thinks other dogs who are play-fighting are fighting for real and gets upset. We just keep taking to him to the dog park, and even though he’s LONG past the 16-week window, he does show signs of improvement.

    I think people in general want all dogs to be slobberly loving Golden retrievers, and take it personally when the dog stands aloof instead of treating them gods!

  9. Thanks for the timing bringing this in Animal Cafe. Two new Hovawart puppies are born and coming to their new families (one in the coming week) and both parents reached out through my blog and Facebook. I wrote something for them about our experiences with socializing Kenzo, but leave them in foremost in the good hands of you, Mary, Eric and Operation Socialization. I am sure they will feel equipped to socialize their puppy the best way possible.

    1. How funny that we both posted on the same topic on the same day! Your post is great — going into a lot of interesting detail about your personal experience that I’m sure will help — and what a cute picture of puppy Kenzo. The more information the better, and Operation Socialization is a terrific resource too.

      Now you have to promise to post pictures of the Hovawart puppies of the people who contacted you. I can’t imagine anything much more adorable.

  10. Hi Y’all!

    Great article…wish I’d had it when we adopted an abandoned Flatcoat. Mostly I’ve had a good experience adopting and adopting a dog under 2 yrs. Like you, I no longer want to face the “puppy” days.

    Have you ever done an article about selecting an older dog?

    When you go to a rescue that has the dogs in private homes, you probably will get feed back regarding the personality. When you go to the SPCA kennel where dogs are in cement individual runs you get little to no feedback and see no interaction between dogs.

    One dog is enough for our family, but someday, hopefully in the far distant future, I’ll be faced with this problem. I’m sure others are facing it now.

    BrownDog’s Human

    1. You make excellent points about adopting dogs in shelters vs in a home environment. I was so clueless that I just decided to adopt Frankie on the basis of a picture and his rescuer’s recommendation. I didn’t even visit him in her home!

      That’s a great idea to do a post about selecting an older dog. Thank you! I’m going to look into it.

  11. Riley was socialized as a puppy but had a couple of bad encounters with other dogs when she was very little, so now she’s somewhat fearful of other dogs. She’s generally curious but also fearful of other dogs…she hates when a pushy dog approaches her with too much energy and gets up in her face with no manners. She isn’t aggressive–she won’t go after another dog if she sees one–she just ignores them and avoids them. So I understand where you’re coming from. It’s frustrating at times, but it’s just a part of our life so I generally accept it!

    1. Yes, there’s only so far puppy socialization can go if a dog has a few bad experiences. Sorry that happened to Riley, glad she’s not too traumatized. It’s funny how people who would understand that an invasion of personal space is unacceptable for them somehow don’t get the concept when it comes to their “friendly” dogs.

  12. I totally agree that there is an essential need to socialize dogs at an early age. When I got my little Shih Tzu boy, he was 6 weeks old and that’s when I started to introduce him to a variety of people in many different environments. This resulted in a very social dog who adjusts beautifully to just about any circumstance.

    I then rescued a 3 year old Shih Tzu boy who has been severely neglected and most definitely not socialized. I made it a point to expose this 3-year-old to the same kind of stimuli I exposed his brother at the age of 6 weeks. The progress was much slower but it worked. My rescue dog is now completely socialized.

    What I’m trying to point out is that although it’s easier to socialize a dog when he or she still very young, it’s not impossible to socialize an older dog as well. All it takes is patience and perseverance.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with socializing an older dog. I agree that it’s needed– to a certain degree. There’s a point of diminishing returns. I can — and have — spent a lot of time introducing Frankie to new situations and new dogs but I’ve come to the conclusion that not every dog has to be social. Sure, if it’s causing distress to the dog to the point that he might be in danger of being rehomed that’s an issue. But Frankie walks happily adjacent to other dogs. He just doesn’t interact with them. And I’ve gotten over the idea that he needs to be a better reflection on me.

  13. I certainly agree with this post on the need for socializing dogs at an early age. I have an older dog, who sadly was never really exposed to other dogs and people much when young other than immediate family and a sister from the same litter. Over time she has developed “fear aggression” and will try to nip anyone who comes to visit. She is very shy around strangers and will cower, then when they happen to walk past, will try and nip them. I fear a lack of socialization at an early age may be responsible for this behavior now that she is much older.

    1. Yes, early socialization is very important, but it’s never too late to work on these things… Have you considered a trainer?

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