Puppy Socialization: What does it mean?

So you’ve been to the vet and they have said “make sure you socialize your dog”, the breeder said “make sure you socialize this puppy”, friends and neighbors say “make sure you socialize so you don’t end up with behavior problems”.
So what does that even mean? When I was becoming a dog trainer, finding this information was enough to make your head spin. Everyone had an opinion, or a guide, or lots of stuff you shouldn’t do.
Lucky for you, I have a few years’ experience now, and I am going to guide you through “Puppy socialization”
I was lucky enough to live close to Cargo’s breeder so I was able to work with her a bit when she was very young. We started our “field trips” when she was 5 weeks old. She is a bold puppy who was not fazed by much at that age, so we were able to start things pretty young. One of our first trips was into Bass Pro Shop. She got to climb on the rocks out front, see the cars in the parking lot, visit with people as she wished and investigate all the things inside the store. When she seemed a bit overwhelmed I would scoop her up and she would check things out from the safety of my arms. When she wiggled to be put down, I complied so she could go investigate as she wanted to.

Start early!

Puppies are tiny sponges when you first get them. The more you can expose them to in the first year, the better off the rest of your life will be with your puppy. However, (and this is big) make sure you are making the experiences positive ones! It’s better to have a handful of great experiences than a ton of mediocre ones, or a few bad ones. We made a plan to go to one new place a week for about 20 minutes. We’ve been to the barn to see the chickens and horses, we have been to the vets office, hardware stores, pet stores, training buildings, the parking lot of the outlet center, many parks, and the auto repair shop.
Many Veterinarians and breeders will recommend that you wait until your puppy has completed his shots to begin to take them out and expose them to things. The new American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines actually recommend exposure as early as possible! Now you have to be smart about it and avoid places where there might possibly be a sick dog, like the dog park, vet clinic or pet store until your pup has received a few vaccines.

Be an advocate for your puppy! When I take Cargo out, I tell people they can pet her if she approaches them. Sometimes she does, sometimes she creeps up, and sometimes she says “heck no!” I don’t care either way what choice she makes, I just support the choice. If she finds a thing that she finds frightening or worthy of working out, then I allow her the time and space to figure out what she needs to do to be successful. Sometimes we creep towards it and I touch it to show her it’s okay, sometimes we decide it’s too much for right now, and we walk away. If we walk away I make a mental note to try again when we get older and see how it goes. So far we do not have anything that has been scary more than once (Except plastic bags blowing down the street. That was scary a few times), so I am happy.
How to support your puppy
First things first. This is your puppy, your companion, and your family member. If someone is being rude to a family member, you say something or you leave the situation. Supporting your puppy from the beginning teaches them that you will always be a safe place, and you are trust worthy in these new environments. There are a few ways you can support your puppy’s choices in a new place.

Treats. Offer cookies when your puppy checks in, checks out a new thing, or person. Treats should always come from you, especially if your puppy loves his food. Often the desire for food can overshadow the fear they are feeling, and put them in a bad situation once the food is gone. Food also intrinsically makes us feel good. (There is science behind this) Feeding in a new location will lower your puppy’s stress level and make the situation not as strange.
Talk to them. Cargo had a hard time with people “appearing” through doors or on the trail. She still watches and wonders, but it’s getting to be more of a normal occurrence. When she is watching, I calmly talk to her and ask her what those people are doing or where they came from. This helps her hear my voice calmly supporting her, and it explains to the people why my puppy is just staring at them. When she had explored the situation to her satisfaction, she would check in with me for a cookie, then we would carry on. I never asked her to get closer to the people or the door until she was ready and checked in with me. (communication is a two way street)


You can’t reinforce fear. If she was really struggling with something, I would kneel down and let her take shelter near me. I would pet her and reassure her that she did not need to panic, and that I was right here to keep her safe. After all, I have decided she was going to live in my world and do things my way, I need her to trust me when something unexpected happens. Fear is an emotion, and as most of us know, we cannot control emotions.
Socialization does not end when your puppy is beyond the cute fluffy stage. Socialization is ongoing for the life of your dog if you are looking for a well-adjusted companion. Think ahead to the situations that your puppy might encounter over the next 5 years. Do you have a boat but it’s in winter storage? Visit the marina anyway, and let your puppy see the other boats. Obviously you can’t plan for everything that will happen over the lifetime of your dog, but if you have enough great experiences with strange places or strange things, when something strange does happen in the future your dog will have all those puppy experiences to fall back on!

If you need help deciding what path of socializing is best for your puppy, shoot me a message! I am happy to help in any way I can! In the next post we will explore those first things you should be teaching your puppy, and what to look for in a puppy play group!

So you have a puppy!

Puppies at playgroup

Puppies are really cute but a bit overwhelming!

Whew! So you found your perfect puppy and now you have a date to go pick them up! You are totally ready for bringing a brand new moldable baby into your life. You have a plan ready to go to make this pup a perfect dog by the time they are 6 months old!


haha okay well now what?


Planning on puppy coming home.

I will admit, the baby puppy isle in your local pet supply store is overwhelming! What do you actually need to be successful?

Introductions to resident dogs go better with barriers to keep everyone happy

Crate, Baby gates and x-pens. Obviously you are not going to give your baby puppy free run of your house on day one. Using an x-pen helps create a “puppy zone” that puppy can hang out in while you are not actively watching him or when you need to go out. Cargo hated her crate when we brought her home so we let her sleep and hang out in our living room in an x-pen when we weren’t outside or playing with her. This let her feel like she was part of the action and still allow me to get things done. (although you don’t really get anything done with a puppy in the house) It also limited her potty accidents to one area when I wasn’t watching her.
To Pee Pad or not to Pee Pad
That’s a loaded question! We decided not to use pee pads because Malinois puppy would bite them, shred them and make a giant mess. If you have a small breed or will be gone for many hours, then giving your puppy a place to relieve themselves might be a good option. Some people do not mind the pads for the lifetime of the dog, and that is totally a personal preference. If you are not keen on pee pads into the adult stages, make sure you start to take them away as soon as possible. I recommend only putting them down when you are gone so puppy learns to ask to go out.
We had plenty of accidents so a good enzymatic cleaner like Natures Miracle is a must. Puppy can’t really control their bladder until they are about 12 to 15 weeks. (If you can house train a puppy before that, consider yourself lucky) You will have accidents too so it’s important not to scold your puppy when you find a puddle. If you flip out on puppy, they will learn that peeing in front of you is a bad thing, and will instead go hide when they need to pee. You want to be a part of the potty party, so make sure you are making a big deal about relieving themselves outside.
golden retriever puppyAll the toys!
The toy isle is just as overwhelming as the baby puppy isle. Get things that your puppy can not destroy. The little fluffy stuffies might be appropriate for your maltipoo, but your German Shepard is going to unstuff that thing in 12 seconds. Go for toys that are different textures and shapes too. Once your puppy starts teething at 15 weeks, they are going to be looking for things that will sooth the pain in their mouth. Giving them different options will keep them from eating your furniture.
Food Water and snacks!
Training starts the day you bring puppy home. Getting them used to a schedule and boundaries is a must for a chaos free puppyhood. My dogs eat in their crates for every meal, unless they are playing with a puzzle toy like boxes or the wobbler. Cargo quickly put together that the food dish goes down in her crate and does a really cute jump spin all the way there. Find a good quality diet for your pup. Read your ingredient list, and make sure you can actually pronounce most of the ingredients. Avoid foods with corn, soy, and by-products in the first 5 ingredients. If you have a giant breed dog, then make sure you get a food formulated for a giant breed. We feed Annamaet petfoods in my house. More info on that here: http://www.annamaet.com/ 

I’m going to stop because I don’t want to overwhelm you like the puppy isle did. We will visit a puppy training plan and the mostly ambiguous word “socialization” in our next post!

Is Frustration Affecting your Dog’s Walks?

I want to touch on the idea of giving your dog a choice. Is your dog ready to go for a walk? Are they actually capable of listening to you in the moment you are speaking? Sometimes the answer is no.
Most of the time your dog does not respond to the cue given because their brain is elsewhere. You know the look I am talking about, the one where their nose is twitching and their head is on a swivel. They have no idea you actually exist in that moment. They are looking off to the hills, and have forgotten about the leash and the walk that you are ready to go on. From a training point of view, that is a problem!
Many traditional trainers teach that the dog should obey what you say no matter what, and that level of sharp obedience is what you strive for. If you are not getting the result you want, then a sharp pop of the collar to remind the dog what he is supposed to be doing will help him get there. If this is how you were taught to train your dog then one of two things are happening. (I was also taught this way originally, so I know your frustration) One, you are now constantly popping the collar and giving cues that your dog is ignoring. Two, your dog is giving you a half-hearted sit when you collar pop but still no actual focus to do what you ask. A very frustrating problem.
A story: Pixie loves dock diving. Her favorite thing in the whole world is jumping from the dock into the pool and going for a swim. She loves it so much however, that she leaves her brain in the car when we get to the pool. All of last year I struggled with her staying on the dock. I could see in her face that there was no brain in her head. The more training I did on the dock the more frustrated I got because I could not get any thought processes while near the pool. So I stopped going to the pool to let her jump. The first time we went to the pool this year, she didn’t get anywhere near the dock. I just let her sniff. We sniffed in the parking lot, and the fence line. We sniffed the parked cars, and watched the dogs go into the vet clinic. Any time she offered me some eye contact, I would reward, and move her a little closer to the pool. Thoughtfulness, gets you closer to what you want.
What would happen if you just gave your dog a few minutes to sniff? Hang out on the porch, and let your pup get all the sniffing out of his system before you asked him to move forward. I’m not saying let your dog drag you all over the yard to sniff every blade of grass, you stay in one space, giving your dog as much room to sniff as the leash will allow and just wait. Let me know how this goes, and the difference you see in your walks with your pup!

How to give your dog a job!

‘Your dog needs a job’

How many times have you told a puppy owner this one? What does that even mean?!

Does every border collie owner also own sheep? Does every lab owner go duck hunting every weekend? Heck no!

Can these dogs be successful in a pet home? Heck yes!

So what does “give your dog a job” even mean? It means finding ways to teach your dog what is expected of them while living in your world, and how to be successful in your environment.

It means giving them fair and consistent guidelines on how they should behave in certain circumstances. In my house, my dog’s jobs are to sit quietly while I work with the other dog, wait for a release before running out of their kennels, stay on the rug while I am cooking dinner, and not mug me if I drop food. (I am a mess in the kitchen so this was a hard one for my dogs)

I also give them fun jobs, like our conditioning work or finding their kibble in a puzzle toy. We play with the flirt pole a few times a week and go to sport class sometimes.

In public, my dog’s jobs are not to pull me around, and not rush or scare the other people in the park. (This one is easier for Opie than Pixie. See “I hate walking my dog” from April 2016. She’s a work in progress) Sit quietly in their kennels until I am ready to get them out of the car. (This one is difficult for Opie)

Now, all this sounds like I spend an extraordinary amount of time with my dogs. Each of these things we work on for about 2 minutes at a time.  A conditioning session might be 10 to 15 minutes because it’s mostly repetitive, and usually I can do that while waiting for dinner to come out of the oven. The key is to get a bit creative and to DO SOMETHING. It doesn’t matter what it is, just do something. This will morph into a plan, which becomes routine, and the next thing you know you aren’t even thinking about the responsibilities you have given to your pup, and the things they have learned!

The Secret to Loose Leash Walking!

My secret to Loose Leash Walking!

The ultimate goal!! To have a dog who doesn’t drag you down the street! Who listens when you are tethered together. The one skill that every 6 to 8 month old puppy owner is wishing they had the magical answer for!

Somewhere I read that teaching your pup to walk on a loose leash was just the same as teaching any other trick. That clicked for me, the dog trainer, but my clients look at me like I have 3 heads. (There is that glassy look that I was talking about in my Trigger Stacking article) Follow me here!

Remember when you were teaching your pup to sit? He learned first in front of the cookie jar because jumping up at you was not a good idea. Brilliant pup! Then you moved into the living room and asked for a “sit” and got the blank stare?

Yeah that blank stare!

Dogs have a hard time generalizing what you are asking of them, unless you ask them for things in lots of different places.  Add in all the new exciting smells of the world and your puppy has no brains left to give you!

Take a look outside to the sidewalk. See all those individual squares? Those are all different places for your pup, with new smells and different experiences. That means you have to tackle a loose leash on every single one of those squares until your pup gets the idea. Don’t worry, with some consistency on your part, this will go quicker than you imagine.


Start inside the house. Yep! Leash puppy up and walk around the kitchen then the living room and down the hallway. If there is any pulling on the leash just stop and wait for puppy to look back at you with that blank stare. Reward puppy right at your side where you would have a nice loose leash. I aim for the seam of your pants. If cookie shows up at your side, then puppy is going to want to stay at your side to get those cookies.

The other secret is to set a timer for your session. 5 mins for baby puppies, maybe 15 mins for older puppies. Heck, maybe you only have 5 mins of patience, it’s better than nothing!

Once your inside walking is great, start moving toward the door you would like to begin to go out for a walk. Same rules apply! If you feel any pulling, you stop and wait for puppy to look at you. The first time you venture out the door, you might be walking one very long step at a time, but the more consistent you are, the faster your puppy will pick up on the concept that pulling means you stop.

Set the timer! If you only make it to the mailbox in 20 mins, well, that is your pups walk for the day. Having them think about what they are doing is so much better than letting them drag you around for 20 mins. You are also one day closer to meeting your goals!

The Secret!

Practice! Sorry, I wish my magic wand worked for this one. If your pup is struggling to get down the driveway, go back to something easier like the front door. Once you turn around and go back to a place that your dog has already had the chance to investigate, then they have more brain to give you. When they walk with a nice loose leash back to the door, then tell them what a brilliant puppy they are! Feedback is so important!!

At the end of the day there are 100 different ways to reach the end result. Hopefully, this gives you some idea on how to get started!