Whole Dog Journal's Blog July 13, 2016

My Less-than-Stellar Puppy Socialization Efforts

Posted at 03:09PM - Comments: (17)

There is nothing like realizing that you need to take a bunch of your own advice. In my case right now, I need  to do things with my own dog that I have been telling others to do for nearly two decades. Sheesh.

I started fostering my young dog Woody (and his eight siblings) in November. He was my first so-called “foster fail” (meaning, I decided to keep him) in nine years of fostering for my local shelter. But since I adopted him, I’ve fostered several other large litters of puppies, one after another, and this task has kept me tied pretty close to home. So I haven’t taken Woody to as many places as I would advise everyone else to do with their dogs.

I did take him to two rounds of puppy kindergarten classes with my trainer/friend Sarah Richardson (thecanineconnection.com), for a total of a dozen classes, and a few “puppy social” sessions that Sarah offers as sort of bonus sessions to puppies who are currently enrolled in her classes. And I have taken him on a few errands to Home Depot, pet supply stores, and to a board and care home (sort of like a convalescent hospital, but with just six residents, one of whom is my cousin), and, of course, to the homes of a few local friends and relatives. That’s not enough!

The 11 Great Dane-mix puppies and their Great Dane mom I had been fostering for the past couple of months were finally well, altered, and ready for adoption, and they flew off the shelves of my local shelter; the entire dozen were adopted in less than a week. So, suddenly, I was free to travel, and I celebrated by immediately jumping into my car with Woody and taking a weekend trip down to the San Francisco Bay to see my son and a few friends.

The first thing I knew we needed to work on more is greetings. Despite my best efforts to ask for a controlled entrance, Woody entered each of my friends’ homes like he was home from the war and couldn’t wait to see all his loved ones again –especially the loved ones sitting on sofas in their living rooms. Those people were greeted with full-on leaps into their laps! But of course, he had never met any of these people before and had never been there before.

Fortunately, I had only enough time to visit my very BEST friends on this visit, and my very best friends are all dog lovers, so I think Woody and I are still welcome to visit again another day, but if the first two things hadn’t been true, I’m not sure the welcome mat would be getting rolled out again any time soon. And I’m sure not going to take him to see any elderly relatives until we’ve worked on this a bit more.

The other surprising thing to me was Woody’s reaction to certain people on the street as we walked. I’ve tried my best to introduce him to lots of different types of people – young, old, tall, small, black, white and every color in between – but there seem to be gaps in his understanding that humans are okay unless their actions prove otherwise. Walking around in Berkeley one day, he startled several times at the sight of elderly Asian ladies, twice at white kids who were wearing baseball caps, and once, quite dramatically, at a baby stroller.

Each time he hesitated as he saw certain people, growled, or started putting up his hair (raising his hackles), I call him, step or turn away to put more distance between whatever he was anxious about and us, and pop treats, one after another, into his mouth. I’d praise him for turning to look at me, to come with me, and to sit on cue. 

In the case of the stroller, it was still at least 50 feet away when he noticed it coming toward us and it spooked him. He stopped suddenly and puffed up quite defensively, growled and let out a loud, startled WOOF! I stepped quickly off the sidewalk onto the grass (we were walking by a park), calling him away and putting more distance between the lady and the stroller, and then allowed him to turn and watch as the lady who was pushing the stroller (who he couldn’t see at first, since the stroller was big and the lady was small!) walked by. As soon as he realized there was a person behind the stroller, his hair went down and he wagged his tail, but because his woof had clearly spooked the lady (and why wouldn’t it?), I kept him sitting until they were well past us.

I didn’t only respond to him when he was having a bad reaction. I’d also proactively say his name brightly at random times – whether someone was coming or we just passed someone, or sometimes for no reason at all – and popped a treat into his mouth. And he wasn’t all bad; there were some things I was very proud of accomplishing with him. He did really well at walking with me on a loose leash, and turning toward me or looking at me EVERY time I said his name.

We walked to a terrific pet supply store that I miss living nearby – the Holistic Hound (http://holistichound.com) – and he was a big hit in the store, greeting all the employees and fellow shoppers with a huge, waggy tail and decent manners, considering his enthusiasm for the merchandise. I was able to tell him “Off” and he complied every time, even though this meant not putting his mouth on the many toys, chews, leashes, and bags of treats that were right at mouth level. A few things got licked briefly, but he didn’t grab anything. I also left him with a store employee for a few minutes while I used the restroom, and I don’t think he even noticed I was gone – that’s a good thing, in my book. (I’m doing everything I can to make sure he doesn’t develop any sort of separation anxiety, which is one of the toughest things I see some of my friends dealing with in their dogs.)

An outtake from a photo session

One last thing he did well: I spent a little time on the trip taking some of the final photos to use in the WDJ 2017 calendar, and he modeled like a pro. Otto would have been proud of his sit-stays – this one on top of my car, the better to capture the sunset with the San Francisco skyline behind him! I got a better shot with another model (my son’s dog, Cole), but Woody did good!

So, all in all, I’m giving Woody and myself a “C” – on average, we did no better than averagein our first trip out of town together. And that means we have a lot of homework (and reading some back issues about socializing) to do.


Comments (17)

Thank you for sharing your story of Woody. I'm looking forward to any updates you make regarding his development. Special note to "quinnsammi": Thanks for sharing! I have a 17 month BMD who is overly friendly with people. I, too, did puppy classes, puppy socials, and got out and about town. However at our regular dog park visits, she's became sensitive to other dogs' growls, taking these signals as a dare to fight. I agree that friendly dogs met on our walks helps her respond appropriately, but every time a quick tempered dog barks or growls, she needs to lunge, and at 91 pounds that's dangerous for me! Where is the mellow BMD I was hoping for?

Posted by: NaniClio | July 17, 2016 10:36 AM    Report this comment

This article is just one of the many reasons why I love The Whole Dog Journal. Good humor and complete honesty! No one is perfect, but we're all trying our best.
Hugs from Memphis, TN

Posted by: margotmcneeley | July 16, 2016 9:28 AM    Report this comment

I mostly have n problem with other dogs after she gives her one bark as if to say I am boss. She is cute and people what to pet her. I can't let them because if you aren't a child she will snap. How do you ver come that?

Posted by: JaonM | July 15, 2016 10:54 AM    Report this comment

You should have seen my dog carry on the first time she saw me in a bike helmet. She staggered out of the bedroom and saw me trying it on by the front door. Barked and growled with hackles fully up as she advanced the first 5 metres with me laughing and calling her name, whistling and telling her it was ok. Wasn't til 3 metres away she recognised me and relaxed. Was the same the first few times I got home from a ride to work and she wouldn't stop bellowing til i opened the door and she smelt me. Clearly cant hear when in such a state.
Gave a similar reaction to the sight of a woman with an umbrella. I just kept calmly walking foreward until we were close before stepping to the nature strip and stopping for her to pass, declaring with amusement and loudly enough to be heard 'oh come on, it's only an umbrella you sook.' heard an amused giggle from her and we continued on again.
She's ok with bikes, skateboards, electric wheelchairs etc because a guy in a wheelchair who I often passed said he had to go slow near dogs or they'd chase him, so I always made a point of looking and saying it was ok if I saw her notice one then ignoring the object. Still starts at a plastic bag blowing in the wind though.

Posted by: db | July 14, 2016 9:00 PM    Report this comment

I know a skittish dog is a problem, but my red chow is, to some, overly friendly. She is a star at my dog park, and out and about in North Berkeley she still thinks everyone loves her. Not always; recently On a stroll on a busy local avenue she snuck over a few feet and gave an unsuspecting woman a lick on her ankle.
As I hurried away she started yelling as if a slavering rabid hound had just wrapped its jaws around her leg. Oops. I swear my chow was smiling . .
Your boy will probably get better as you socialize him more. Good luck.

Posted by: RuthB | July 14, 2016 4:53 PM    Report this comment

Woody is so handsome. Thanks for the great story and I'm impressed that he was soooo good in the pet supply store. We work hard to socialize our own dogs and foster dogs but there is always more work to be done.

Posted by: Olivia | July 14, 2016 2:16 PM    Report this comment

My biggest problem with socializing my three German Shepherds is/has been finding other dog people to help them develop their skills. They all did puppy school and years of obedience classes but have very little opportunity for off-leash play. They are great with people at home or away but are sometimes dangerously reactive to dogs. The danger is to me, not the other dogs. I was at an obedience trial with Miley lying quietly at my feet, head on her paws, when she suddenly lunged to my left pulling me and the chair to the ground. I surmise that she didn't like the look another dog gave her. All three of my dogs have done something similar. I try to be watchful and keep the dogs eyes on me but it is so exhausting that I have given up on showing and training in obedience, rally or agility. My dogs have earned many obedience and rally titles and a Nose Work title. But the big dog is always at fault no matter what the other dog did to set her off. So as much as I love showing in obedience I have decided to do tracking since it is an individual sport.

My wish would be that people with well socialized dogs would be more willing to step up and put in some time helping the rest of us. It does take time but we can't do it alone. Glaring and turning away from us just convinces my dog that lunging/barking is effective. So when I take my one year old male GSD to the home improvement store, pet store, horse show, walking in suburbia, etc. I use a (gasp) pinch collar on him. I rarely need to use it but its presence gives me confidence that I have control and won't injured by eighty-five pounds of excited dog suddenly lunging. I'm sorry but holding a treat in front of his nose is not a reliable preventative. I don't take the other two out in public much anymore except for tracking practice.

I love my dogs and have come to accept them for what they are. Super intelligent, loving, happy companions at home, but dog reactive.

Posted by: BarbaraJ | July 14, 2016 11:21 AM    Report this comment

What a handsome young man Woody has developed into! I have no doubt all the issues will be resolved shortly now that you've recognized them. And he is yummy no matter the issues.

I'm lucky that my 4 have no issues with anybody, dog or human, or anything at all. However my pit mix thinks every person in the world is there to love and pet her and is so puzzled when her happy face and wagging tail doesn't get her immediate pets and attention. She even looks back at them as they walk away as if to say "hmmm, wonder what's wrong with them".... always makes me laugh.

Posted by: SFLSue | July 14, 2016 11:13 AM    Report this comment

It sounds as though Woody is doing really well!
I find myself doing a 10 minute refesher with Ollie (now 7 months) on a daily basis.
It works! 😀

Posted by: Ollie boy | July 14, 2016 11:04 AM    Report this comment

Love your stories. So candid and clear. And love the way you're so in tune to the animal and figure out what's behind the behavior, rather than imposing your will on them, as so many owners do, and ultimately fail, or have a miserable dog.

Posted by: vboisen | July 14, 2016 10:48 AM    Report this comment

My socialization failure was one I don't see mentioned often enough. I didn't have a lot of people actually handle my pup; so his first trip to the vet was a shock to all three of us! I can maul him without scaring him; but being restrained or looked at closely by someone else puts him in high defense mode.

Posted by: myprince | July 14, 2016 10:33 AM    Report this comment

It was a good reminder to read! My Dachshund is nearly 6 and I need to step up my socializing him outside of family and other Dachshund homes!:)

Posted by: Seeley's Mom | July 14, 2016 9:44 AM    Report this comment

it is nice to hear that someone with you experience has (kind of) a problem dog. When I was given Molly as a puppy (Bernese Mountain Dog) I did all the right things, socialized her, puppy classes, walking her, doggie day care. For my efforts she ended up with scabbies from the doggie day care. She is now two and she is a jumper, no matter what I have tried. She is shy around people, if brought somewhere she will jump up in peoples laps. I did everything right with her and yet we still have a lot of problems. Yet her brother Max, who is a year younger has had no socialization or classes, yet he is the most calm relaxed well mannered dog I have ever had. I recently had him at a berner get together, this was his first time, at 15 months, around people and dogs he was great. So I guess you never know.

Posted by: quinnsammi | July 14, 2016 9:41 AM    Report this comment

I paid for a trainer but my American Bulldog reacts to every person or animal that he sees on his walk. If he doesn't meet up with a human being on his walks or
dog he will walk ok. Sometimes he stops to sniff a stain on the road, but I pull
him telling him no and we continue. But if he on his walks he passes a human, whether he knows him/her or not he wants to jump and give a big lick. He is 11 months old. He is also not good in the car. He's a great dog other than that.

Posted by: DebGod | July 14, 2016 9:36 AM    Report this comment

despite my constant attempts at our 2 year old Standard Schnauzer greeting people calmly, he still thinks everyone can hardly wait to see him. I can get him to sit but boy when released he is out of control again. I think he is getting better than, say a year ago, but we still have so much to do...it gets discouraging sometimes.
I also appreciate your honesty in sharing your stories w/ us. It helps me not be so hard on myself but to keep at it. Also, listening to others & of course reading WDJ, I realize it is a process and can't be done quickly.

Posted by: joanne.c | July 14, 2016 9:36 AM    Report this comment

That sounds like he was exposed to a lot of different experiences! :)

We were bad dog parents and our now-oldest dog wasn't socialized. We both work about 40 minutes from home so when the work day/week was done, we just wanted to stay home. He's not spooked by adults on our walks around the neighborhood, but he's scared of kids (and kittens - of which we have two living with us). If we ever bring home a puppy, he/she will go everywhere with us when we aren't working. Although now I work from home, so that wouldn't be an issue.

I'm so happy to hear that ALL of the Great Dane pups were adopted. How about the mom? I hope she's found a good home too. I admire anyone who fosters pets. I think I would be a huge failure, although we have a legal limit of four in our small town. (The vet said kittens only add up to 1/2 - joking, of course.) Although I bet with puppies, it's a big relief to have them ready to be adopted, but I'd still cry, I think.

Posted by: KimberlyO | July 14, 2016 9:05 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for your honesty! It was refreshing. Woody is a lovely pup!

Posted by: thenenes | July 14, 2016 9:00 AM    Report this comment

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